The 2009 Legislature directed the Institute to “evaluate the adequacy of and access to financial aid and independent living programs for youth in foster care. The examination shall include opportunities to improve efficiencies within these programs.” In the past decade, the number of programs focused on Washington foster youth transitioning to adulthood has grown from three to 15. We estimate that 3,365 youth accessed one or more of these programs in 2009—roughly 60 percent of those eligible for the state’s Independent Living program (for foster youth ages 15 to 21). In this report, we review the research evidence on Independent Living programs.
In Fiscal Year 2009, approximately $3,300 per youth was spent on foster youth transition programs. Over $11 million in total was spent on these programs; the state spent close to $5 million. Almost half the state funding went toward housing programs, over a quarter toward college preparation and student financial aid, nearly a fifth toward health insurance, and 5 percent toward helping youth finish high school.
In Washington, 34 percent of students in foster care graduate on-time from high school, compared with 71 percent of their non-foster peers. We recommend the legislature consider reallocating funding to help more foster youth finish high school. The 2009 legislation (HB 2106) directing performance contracts for child welfare services offers an opportunity to consolidate foster youth transition services into the smallest number of contracts and emphasize key outcome measures.