Transition Age Youth and the Child Protection System: Demographic and Case Characteristics


Adverse outcomes for youth emancipating from foster care in the United States have been well documented. These include low educational attainment, high rates of unemployment and poverty, homelessness, mental illness, incarceration, and premature death. In response to this evidence, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has launched an ambitious program strategy to assist youth transitioning out of foster care in Los Angeles County and New York City. The strategy aims to: (1) increase transition-age youth self-sufficiency through improved college and career readiness, stronger caregivers, and special services for the most vulnerable youth; (2) strengthen collaboration and alignment across the systems that influence foster youth outcomes; and (3) develop and disseminate knowledge for the field.

In June 2014, the Foundation contracted with the Children’s Data Network (CDN) to embark on a program of research around transition-age youth (TAY) in Los Angeles County to support these primary goals. This report is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of data regarding transition-age youth who are involved in Los Angeles County’s child protection system. A California version of the report is also available.

The report aggregates publicly available data regarding transition-age youth (TAY) involved with the child protective services (CPS) system from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP). It provides information on the composition of the TAY population, rates of contact with the child protection system, and service experiences in this system from first report to exit. The report includes data on children age 16–20, broken out into TAY age subgroups of 16–17 and 18–20. For comparison purposes, it also provides data on the population of youth age 0–15.

Providing this overview of the unique characteristics and challenges of TAY in the child welfare system, will allow researchers, policy makers, and service providers to begin to address these gaps to better serve this population of vulnerable youth.

Overview of Findings

Statewide and in Los Angeles County, Transition Age Youth (TAY) age 16-20 account for nearly 1 in 4 youth in foster care. First entries to foster care among TAY have remained stable over time, whereas reentries to foster care among TAY age 18–20 have increased with the implementation of extended foster care (AB12). TAY who remain in out-of-home care past age 18 are more likely to be female.

The TAY child welfare experience differs in several important ways from that of their younger counterparts. For instance, TAY have longer median lengths of stay and less stable placements. TAY are also more likely to be placed in group homes or to have runaway status and less likely to be placed in family like settings. TAY are more likely to exit to emancipation or in other ways (i.e., running away, refusing services, incarceration, or death), and less likely to exit to permanency (i.e., reunification, adoption, Kin-GAP, and guardianship). Among TAY, Black and Latino youth are more likely than their counterparts of other race/ethnicities to exit for these other reasons.

TAY are also more likely than their younger counterparts to have behavioral, mental health, and educational issues, which may impact both permanency options and long term adult outcomes. Specifically, TAY are more likely than their younger counterparts to be authorized for psychotropic medications and to have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Finally, few TAY who emancipate from care do so having achieved a high school diploma or having obtained employment.

Although this report provides a comprehensive overview of the population of transition-age foster youth involved in the child protection system, gaps in our understanding of this population remain. First, analyses must be directed toward understanding the service needs of TAY in care and the complex challenges they face in maintaining stability and achieving permanency. Secondly, while AB12 may offer short term housing support for these youth, further investigation is required to determine what additional long term supports are required to see this most vulnerable TAY population transition into adulthood. Finally, efforts are needed to better track and analyze the housing, education, and employment outcomes of TAY at exit and beyond so we can continue to serve the complex needs of these vulnerable youth once they leave the child protection system.


  • Stephanie Cuccaro-Alamin, PhD
  • Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD
  • Daniel Webster, PhD
  • Jacquelyn McCroskey, DSW
  • Ivy Hammond, BA
Data and Research Partners
  • July 2014 – March 2015
1150 South Olive Street, Suite 1400
Los Angeles, CA 90015
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