Report: fewer Alabama teens in foster care, less likely to receive adequate transition services
A new report suggests fewer Alabama youth are in foster care but that most youth lack the resources to navigate employment and higher education.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the number of foster care youth aged fourteen and older decreased from 36% in 2006 to 24% in 2021. In addition, only 9% of youth in foster care remained in the system after their nineteenth birthday in 2020.
Torre McDonald is a program director for the Children’s Aid Society of Alabama. She said Alabama has greatly improved its outreach services to ensure families can continue supporting their children. These include identifying when a child may be at risk for child abuse or neglect and preventing these outcomes through family-based educational training.
“Alabama has done a really good job at keeping the family unit together [and] making sure that the families have the resources and the support that they need before the children even have to enter the foster care system,” McDonald said. “I think the study made me more optimistic. The efforts that we’ve been making over the years are paying off.”
Compared to the national average, Alabama’s youth in foster care had similar outcomes by age 21. For example, 72% of youth had stable housing compared to the nation’s 66%. And 77% had a high school or GED diploma compared to the nation’s 79%.
Alabama trailed behind in other areas. Only 70% of youth had health care by age 21 versus the national 89%. And only 53% of foster care youth were employed by age 21.
However, the report found that youth in Alabama and the United States generally lack the resources to adequately transition from adolescence to adulthood. Only 48% of Alabama’s foster care population received any transition service between ages 14 and 21 in 2021. Less than half of Alabama youth in foster care aged 14 to 21 received life skills training and academic support in 2021. Less than 20% received educational financial assistance and mentoring. And less than 10% received employment programs and housing assistance.
McDonald said the state could also improve how it addresses mental health. The number of youths admitted into the foster care system due to behavior problems increased from 18% in 2006 to 26% in 2021.
“I think the increase [comes from] the mental health crisis around the state and the lack of services and support for families,” she said. “I think that some of the biggest increases [in children entering the system] have been rural areas where there aren’t as many options for services and for families to be able to identify any behaviors that are arising, so they don’t know where to turn to get the help that they can get.”
Despite the report’s results, McDonald said the state and nation have improved access to free college, healthcare and other services. Youth leaving the foster care system are eligible for Medicaid coverage until they turn 26 years old. This is also true for many higher education opportunities.
“Some of the states, they’ve identified that youth don’t know the resources that are out there,” she said. “There have been improvements since the study has been done. That’s been one the biggest goals [in Alabama] is just identifying where we’re lacking and trying to create more resources and more funding. That way we can offer the best possible transitional services.”
The Children’s Aid Society of Alabama is one place where youth can find these resources. It partners with the Alabama Department of Human Resources to host camps, career fairs and group home events to ensure transition services are utilized.
For example, the non-profit is hosting two camps this summer at Troy University for youth in foster care to help them develop independent living skills, self-efficacy and social connections. Camp Life 1 is for youth aged 17 to 20 from June 27th to the 29th. Camp Life 2 is for youth aged 14 to 16 from July 11th to the 13th. Children’s Aid Society of Alabama has also implemented an app called IL Connect to keep youth up to date on any transition services they may need.