Supportive Housing for Young People Formerly in Foster Care

Research Report

Supportive Housing for Young People Formerly in Foster Care

A National Scan of Programs

Abstract

Introduction 

In the United States, most young people experience a gradual transition to adulthood accompanied by frequent changes in housing. Young people typically make this transition with the emotional support, financial assistance, and safety net of family members or other adults. Young adults transitioning out of foster care, however, often experience transiency and frequent changes in housing with little support from family. The transition from foster care can be abrupt for some young adults, as they are expected to shift from being dependents of the state to being independent young adults overnight. Young people aging out of foster care must secure suitable housing with little or no support from their family or the state. Accordingly, many young people aging out of foster care experience homelessness.

A central challenge acknowledged by policymakers is securing viable housing options for young adults that are both developmentally appropriate and responsive to their diverse needs. In recent years, supportive housing programs have become a popular means to support young people formerly in foster care. Although research indicates a universal approach will not be adequate, it remains unclear what specific set of housing options should be made available and whether distinct housing options are better suited for young adults who have been in foster care. This report describes results from a nationwide scan of housing programs for young people formerly in foster care that follow the Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) model. 

Purpose 

The goal of this project was to learn about PSH programs specifically for young people formerly in foster care, which we define as young people who spent any time in foster care, including those who aged out. Through interviews and focus groups, we sought to better understand the range of current programs that generally follow the PSH model, learn more about how they operate, and identify the next steps for readying these programs for potential future evaluation. 

Primary Research Questions:

  1. What design features characterize PSH programs that serve the general population of young people at risk of homelessness?
  2. What challenges does providing PSH to young people formerly in foster care pose?
  3. What successes have providers of PSH to young people formerly in foster care experienced?
  4. How do young people perceive the programs, and do their perceptions match staff perceptions?
  5. What are key program design features that should be sustained or modified? 
  6. For whom is PSH appropriate?
  7. What should PSH programs consider to prepare for an evaluation?

Key Findings and Highlights 

Findings from our national scan suggest that PSH programs vary in design, but all share goals to, at a minimum, safely house young people at risk of homelessness and support their well-being over the medium or long term. Young people and staff tend to agree on the goals and benefits of PSH; however, they also each noted challenges. Our findings indicate that staff in PSH programs struggle to engage young people and form strong relationships with young people. Several programs noted their approaches to engaging young people and formative and process evaluations can help PSH programs learn whether these approaches can improve service delivery. 

Methods 

We identified 25 programs through a national scan of supportive housing programs for young people formerly in foster care. We then conducted 60-minute phone interviews with relevant staff from each program. Nineteen programs were identified as fitting the PSH model, regardless of whether they specifically targeted young people formerly in foster care. Of these, we conducted site visits to eight programs.

Recommendations 

Because PSH programs are costly and intensive, they should continue serving young people who need that level of service. Most programs we spoke with might be better thought of as supportive housing rather than PSH. They are largely designed to serve young people who do not require the intensity of PSH but do need more support than a transitional housing program provides. Establishing a clearer target population for PSH and supportive housing would help the field understand how to best serve young people and begin building evidence about for whom programs may be most effective.

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