Foster Care:

Effectiveness of Independent Living Services Unknown

HEHS-00-13: Published: Nov 10, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 10, 1999.

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Cornelia M. Ashby
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the independent living program (ILP), focusing on: (1) the extent of services provided under ILPs; and (2) what is known about the effect of these services on youths' ability to live on their own.

GAO noted that: (1) states provide a wide range of services to better ensure that foster care youths are prepared to live on their own after they leave the foster care system; (2) those services--funded by federal, state, local, and private dollars totalling at least $131.5 million in 1998--include assisting youths in attaining their educational goals, such as completing high school or passing the General Educational Development test and attending postsecondary schools; as well as assisting youths in finding and maintaining employment; (3) in addition, youths attend classes in daily living skills; (4) other transitional services, such as supervised practice living arrangements and after-care services, allow youths to try living on their own prior to leaving the foster care system and provide temporary assistance to ease the transition to independence; (5) however, state and local administrators told GAO that their ILPs cannot always provide all of the assistance administrators and youths say is needed to help youths learn to live on their own; (6) even though the federal ILP was established in 1985, few national or local studies have been completed to assess the effectiveness of independent living services in helping youths through the transition to living on their own after foster care; (7) GAO identified only one national study that has been completed to date, which found that services provided by ILPs have the potential to improve outcomes for youths; (8) in addition, although several states indicated they have completed studies that measure general youth outcomes, such as education and employment status, only a few attempted to measure the helpfulness of ILP services in youths' ability to attain self-sufficiency; (9) while the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tasked with overseeing the implementation of ILP, it has done little to determine program effectiveness and has no established method to review the states' progress in helping youths in the transition from foster care; (10) HHS officials told GAO they recognize these deficiencies and the need to improve monitoring efforts; and (11) to begin the improvement process, HHS issued a contract in September of 1998 to analyze 10 years of annual state ILP reports to determine, among other things, which states are producing good ILP reports that could be models for other states and what measures HHS can take to improve state reporting and evaluation.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Following the issuance of this report, Congress passed the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, which required HHS to take actions that address this recommendation. HHS has chosen to develop and implement a uniform set of data elements--the National Youth in Transition Database--as the primary accountability mechanism for implementing this recommendation. Agency officials will issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making.

    Recommendation: To enhance HHS' and the states' accountability in preparing youths to live on their own after leaving the foster care system, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop a uniform set of data elements and a report format for state reporting on ILP so that analysis of ILP information can be conducted using consistent data and the results shared with the states; and concrete measures of effectiveness for assessing state ILPs, such as the number of youths with stable employment and housing at the time they leave foster care and at specific intervals thereafter.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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