How do we think about equity when there is not enough resources for everyone and our customers need different types and intensity of services, thus requiring different amounts of money? As we get smarter about the segmented markets (yep business speak, but I think it is really helpful in cases like this) and begin to think through customized services, it’s obviously silly to just deliver one set of services to everyone regardless if it is meeting their need. Do we focus on equity of outcomes – we don’t have enough money to make sure all foster youth make a full transition to independent adulthood, so we are going to just make sure that none of you are homeless? That of course is silly as well. But I am a firm believer that policy needs to take into account the limits of the resources as otherwise we let the bureaucracy and its tedious set of forms and rules allocate resources. And young people are left to try to navigate this maze on their own.
During the webinar Mark Courtney reviewed the findings of the Midwest Study. It’s the most comprehensive study of the transition of foster youth, starting with interviews with 700 interviews with young people in 2002. So far they have been able to follow about 80% of the participants and going back out in the field to interview them at age 26 in the coming year. Mark outlined what the researchers saw as four types of transitions that the young people are making:
- Accelerated Adults (36%) - Most of this group were female, most likely to live on their own in stable living conditions, about half have children, half had been able to complete some college. 84% are connected to school or work.
- Struggling Parents (25%) – This group was named as 91% have children yet are barely making it economically. Most are living with someone or married, are the least likely to have any college experience, only 38% are connected to employment or school.
- Emerging Adults (21%) – Mark described this group as young people that are delaying transition markers (a strange phrase as it suggests that they are making the choice to delay rather than making the assumption that they have tried unsuccessfully) but avoiding hardships. Over half are male; 2/3 have employment, most are living with friends and relatives.
- Troubled and Troubling (18%) – Indeed this group is troubling. Mostly male, most likely to have been incarcerated or homeless, 40% have not completed their diploma. Only 10% are employed and 30% connected to any type of school or education. And many had substance abuse or mental health issues. It broke my heart when Mark explained that this group indicated in earlier interviews that they didn’t feel ready to be on their own, and obviously they aren’t. At what point do we listen to the young people and if they say they aren’t ready, then we keep helping them?
Although not raised in the webinar, I think we also need to pay attention to the growing belief that the transition to adulthood is being delayed or changing in our culture. The New York Times highlighted the research in last week’s magazine in the cover article, What Is It About 20-Somethings? Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? The article explores what some academics are calling “emerging adulthood”. (FYI -- Much of the research driving this national discussion is from the Network on Transitions to Adulthood, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. )
“We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.”
My concern is that many vulnerable young people are challenged by “early onset of adulthood” in trying to generate income to support their families or take care of siblings or parents. They simply cannot balance work, families and an inflexible school schedule. There is little research into the group of students (30% of the dropout population according to Project U-Turn’s analysis ) that are doing okay in school and then dropout in 11th or 12th grade. We need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of them, and figure out how to keep them connected to high school, as our nation begins to shift its thinking about young people’s transition to adulthood. Taking longer to become independent adults may be okay for children with families with enough income and assets to support them. But for many, a delay in connecting fully to the labor market means years and years of hardship.