Article Summary #18: Transitioning Youth from Foster Care to Developmental Services

canfasdblogArticle SummariesLeave a Comment

This Article Summary is part of our CanFASD Connect Top Articles Summary Series. Over the next several months, we will be bringing you summaries of all the recent research papers from our list of the Top FASD Articles of 2019. This is an overview of a recent research paper called System Kids: Transition-Aged Youth from Foster Care to Developmental Services.


The transition to adulthood can be an exciting but challenging time for youth. Youth living in a stable home environment are more likely to have support from their family and friends as they work towards future goals. Youth who grow up in the foster care system do not always have the same experience. Once youth reach the age of majority and they “age out” of foster care, many lose the associated supports and services that would help them to navigate adulthood. As a result of this lack of support, youth may experience critical challenges with housing, medical care, and emotional well-being. Living with a disability can add to the challenges faced by that transition-aged youth.

There have been many studies on youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Yet, little research has focused on transition-aged youth who have disabilities. Researchers suggest that youth with developmental disabilities who live in the foster system and ‘age out’ have increased risks and vulnerabilities, such as problematic drug and alcohol use, homelessness, poverty, chronic medical conditions, and criminal justice involvement.

In this study, researchers aimed to better understand how we might improve developmental services can better support youth transitioning out of foster care. They did so by exploring the stories of three individuals with developmental disabilities in Ontario from the perspectives of both the individuals and their service providers.

Main Findings:
  • According to youth and service providers, environmental instability, lack of continuity in care, and social isolation that come with having a disability present challenges for youth in creating and maintaining stable positive relationships. These challenges can have negative impacts on their mental health.
  • According to service providers, youth with developmental disabilities who live in care are not given enough opportunities to learn basic skills needed for living independently, such as cooking, shopping, and banking.
  • According to participants, long waitlists for services and programs that support transitions, like access to affordable housing, impede youth from successfully transitioning.
  • Children who live in foster care feel that they are constantly denied their basic right to be involved in making decisions about their lives.
  • Youth who live in care are at increased risk of experiencing trauma, and therefore need appropriate supports. However, accessing emotional and psychological support is often challenging due to long wait times or youth hesitation to attend, according to participants.
  • Transition-aged youth should be provided with timely access to services and supports for trauma and mental health to address the harmful experiences they may have faced in care.
  • In order to support positive outcomes, transition-aged youth may benefit from an independent living plan that adequately prepares and supports them to live on their own.
  • There is a need for collaboration across sectors and between agencies to better assist youth through the transition process and avoid confusion for both youth and service providers.
  • Transition planning should start early and with more dedicated time (i.e., one year before the transition instead of one month) so that appropriate supports are in place before the youth transitions out of care.
  • Youth who are transitioning out of care should be provided with better access to crisis-response and prevention options, such as safe beds, intensive support, and available treatments to support positive trajectories and outcomes.
  • Developmental services should also involve more proactive crisis planning and implement protective factors into their services to better be able to handle a crisis when something suddenly happens.
Take-home message:

Stories from individuals with disabilities who are transitioning out of care highlight critical areas for improvement in the implementation and delivery of developmental services. Efforts are needed at the practice and policy levels to better understand the challenges faced by these youth and address these challenges in a proactive and timely manner.

Authors: Sue Hutton, Kevin John Head, Sarah Lyttle, Jordyn, Noah Kenneally, and Maja Rehou

Journal: Journal of Developmental Disabilities

Date: 2019

Read the full article

Leave a Reply