On any given day in the United States, there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system—and more than 82,000 are youth older than 14. These young people, specifically transition-age youth of color, are more likely to experience disparate treatment and outcomes, including that they are more likely to be removed from their homes, less likely to receive family preservation services, and experience longer stays in foster care. Many of these youth ultimately leave whatever care they are in without a family support system, thus making them circumstantially independent or lacking the social connections and concrete supports that guide young people into thriving adulthood. These youth often feel compelled to remain tied to the child welfare system in order to receive essential supports, because holistic policy solutions that can support them from care to independence are not in place.
Deep rooted and persistent systemic and structural inequities across the full ecosystem in which these young people live both create and compound these circumstances. Despite best intentions, public systems too often end up harming rather than helping youth. These young people who grow up under the overly watchful eye of the child welfare system are denied the experiences and opportunities that will empower them and set them on a path toward thriving adulthood. The good intentions of supporting older youth within the child welfare system have often minimized or even undermined the community and individual relationships and supports crucial to ensuring that youth can be healthy, successful, and connected in the communities where they live. It is our belief that, with the right combination of innovation, authentic engagement of youth, and community collaboration, we can start to change that.
In 2021, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) launched a three-year endeavor, Designing and Implementing Meaningful, Anti-Racist Supports for Transition-Age Youth (TAY), funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The aim of this work is to drastically change the systemic challenges that youth—specifically older or “transition-age” youth of color—who are or have been involved with the foster care system experience. We intend to do this through an approach that centers youth empowerment, policy development, and narrative change.