• Community-level and Individual-level Predictors of Variation in Rates of Homelessness among Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care

      Sneddon, Dori; Bright, Charlotte Lyn (2019)
      Youth who age out of foster care are a known high-risk subgroup for homelessness. Studies estimate between 19% and 36% of youth experience homelessness shortly after emancipation. This study examined homelessness among youth transitioning out of foster care by incorporating individual-level and county-level influences to better understand the risk of homelessness among this population. Multilevel models and generalized estimating equation models were constructed to include both individual- and county-level variables. Data were obtained from multiple national datasets: the 2011-2015 National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), 2011 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), University of Wisconsin’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Data and the 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural-Urban Continuum Code data file. The analytic sample included 3,968 youth who responded to the NYTD Wave 1 (age 17), Wave 2 (age 19) and Wave 3 (age 21) survey. Of the sample, 35.3% experienced homelessness between 17 – 21 years old. Findings indicated statistically significant variation between counties in the proportion of youth who become homeless. Multiple individual-level factors were found to predict homelessness between ages 17 – 21. Prior homelessness, substance use history, and incarceration had a positive relationship with risk of homelessness. Connection with a caring adult, enrollment in school, and employment were inversely related to risk of homelessness. Specific to foster care experience, number of placements and age of entry had a positive relationship with risk of homelessness. Being in foster care at age 19 and at age 21 were related to a reduced risk of homelessness. Not as hypothesized, receipt of independent living services had a positive relationship with homelessness. None of the county-level indicators had a statistically significant relationship to the homelessness outcome. Policy and practice implications for child welfare include extending foster care, capturing housing histories and prioritizing housing plans for youth, and targeting intensive services to youth at the highest risk of homelessness. Future research to further examine socioeconomic community- and state-level predictors of homelessness among this population inform homelessness prevention and housing strategies for youth aging out of foster care. Suggested areas for improvement in NYTD data are also discussed.