Foster Care:

Challenges in Helping Youths Live Independently

T-HEHS-99-121: Published: May 13, 1999. Publicly Released: May 13, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Department of Health and Human Services' Independent Living Program (ILP) and the needs of youths leaving the foster care system, focusing on: (1) the problems faced by foster care youths once they leave care; (2) what is known about the extent of services provided by ILP; and (3) what is known about the effectiveness of ILP.

GAO noted that: (1) the few available studies that track youths who have exited foster care reveal that many have a difficult time making the transition to living on their own; (2) the studies found that a substantial portion of these youths have not attained basic education goals, such as completing high school, and are dependent on public assistance; (3) in addition, many experience periods of homelessness after leaving care and have other difficulties that impede their progress toward self-sufficiency, such as being unemployed; (4) in an effort to help foster care youths become self-sufficient, state ILPs offer a wide array of independent living services, including education and employment assistance; training in daily living skills, such as managing money, housekeeping, and personal hygiene; and additional transitional services, such as supervised practice living; (5) however, program administrators acknowledge that independent living services fall short in key areas; (6) these administrators report that developing appropriate employment opportunities for foster care youths, providing supervised transitional housing arrangements, and developing program activities that provide opportunities to practice the skills learned or enhance youths' self-esteem has been difficult; and (7) moreover, there are few evaluations that link program objectives to outcomes, leaving questions concerning the effectiveness of the array of independent living services.

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