Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mapping Out a Cost-Benefit Ratio for Investing in Transitional Youth

Comic strip courtesy of Mark Stivers at

Failure to Launch is not just a movie.

Today, most young adults in the general population rely upon their families for assistance with a place to live, financial support and other guidance as they transition to adulthood.

According to Children's Rights, half of young adults ages 18-24 in the general population in the United States live with their parents.

Meanwhile, every year, 20,000 of the 542,000 children in foster care nationwide "age out" of foster care and enter the adult world.

Young people in foster care have already survived harsh circumstances, such as neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Their "parent" is a system.

And, too often, this system fails to equip them with the knowledge, skills, experience, attitudes, habits, and relationships that will enable them to be productive and connected members of society.

In the words of Melanie Delgado, Staff Attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute, "Even for average youth - kids who never had the added struggle of life in foster care - the age of self-sufficiency is 26. And that's with their parents contributing over $44,000 during their post-18 transitional period."

But forget about compassion. Silence any voice of conscience. Try to be hard-boiled for a minute and see the whole thing through the spectrum of money.

Guess what? It is still worth it.

According to Dr. Mark Courtney of the Chapin Hall Center for Children,“Every $1 invested in continued foster care supports and services results in a return of $2.40."

"Our research shows that supporting foster youth to 21 increases their ability to become educated, productive, taxpaying members of society, and increases their lifetime earning potential by at least $92,000.

Let's review the risk factors faced by young people aging out of foster care without support:
- 1 in 4 become incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care.
- Less than 50% graduate from high school; fewer than 5% graduate from college.
- 1 in 5 experience homelessness within a year and a half of aging out of foster care.

Where would we rather invest our money? What would we rather pay for?

1. Incarceration: The easiest transition between "systems" is between the juvenile justice and the adult prison system. Even for young people with no criminal background, the one place they are guaranteed to receive food and housing after foster care is prison.

So, no, we don't need to intervene. We can just wait for a struggling young person to find "family" in a gang. Chances are, they won't be able to afford an apartment in a very safe area. I couldn't, when I first aged out of care. My neighbors were drug dealers. My first roommate, also a former foster child, quickly fell into a criminal lifestyle.

Forget conscience, just think of dollars and cents: According to the National Institute of Corrections, Ohio taxpayers pay over $26,295 per inmate.

2. Unemployment: Right now, young people are "aging out" of foster care in the midst of recession. Depending on where they might have resided while in care, such as a residential facility or a group home, they often have little to no job experience.

We have the opportunity to invest in workforce planning, funded by the Workforce Investment Act. We could link them with job shadowing opportunities. Or would we prefer to just set them adrift and let them sink or swim?

Dollars and cents: In Ohio, the average monthly unemployment check is $1,327.

According to the report, California's Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21, foster care youth who received support until age 21 experienced the following positive outcomes:

- Three times more likely to enroll in college.
- 65% less likely to have been arrested.
- 38% reduction in the risk of teen pregnancy.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy estimates the taxpayer cost of unwed pregnancy in Ohio to be $1,512 per teen birth.

For a starting point to map out the cost-benefits for your area, it might help to read over Expanding Transitional Services for Emancipated Foster Youth: An Investment in California's Tomorrow.

The Appendix breaks down some of the costs and benefits including:
- A Logic Model that maps out Inputs, Throughputs and Expected Outcomes
- Prison Recidivism savings
- Benefits from Higher Levels of Graduation
- Improvement on Lifetime Earnings

- Benefits to the State and Federal Treasuries through paid taxes
- Benefits of stimulating and supporting the economy as a whole

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this is very great! I'm making a film about successful foster youth, myself a graduate of the program....let's connect?/collaborate!

shani heckman
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