Foster Youth

Achieving healthy and productive lives for transition-age youth in foster care

Children who spend time in the foster care system in the United States encounter significant obstacles, and those who transition out of the system as they reach adulthood face unique and complex barriers to success.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation funded a comprehensive study on youth exiting foster care, led by Dennis P. Culhane PhD, a nationally recognized social policy expert and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The study helped to highlight the challenges transition-age foster youth confront in education, employment, health, mental health and earnings potential:

  • 25 percent are incarcerated by age 20
  • 65 percent leave foster care without a place to live, and 27 percent of the homeless population spent time in foster care
  • Although half complete some college, less than one in ten former foster youth obtain a degree
  • During the four years after leaving foster care more than half of youth have no earnings, and those who do average an income of only $7,500 per year

Despite these troubling statistics, there is promising momentum in policy and practice working to increase positive outcomes for youth in the foster care system. California has recently passed legislation raising the age of youth who are eligible to receive foster care benefits; New York City is working to identify all foster youth that cross into the juvenile justice system; and the federal government just passed The Uninterrupted Scholars Act, allowing social workers to easily access educational records so foster youth can seamlessly move between schools without losing academic progress.

Informed by our landscape research (pdf) that highlighted the challenges and opportunities for addressing the needs of foster youth, the Hilton Foundation officially launched a new strategy for foster youth in March 2012, focusing on Los Angeles County and New York City.


Youth transitioning out of foster care in Los Angeles County and New York City are on the path to success, able to live self-sufficiently and with the interpersonal connections they need to thrive. The Hilton Foundation will work with partners in Los Angeles County and New York City to help foster youth and develop knowledge for the field. 


Foster youth focus in New York City and Los Angeles County


Our work through partners will help impact the lives of foster youth in three key initiatives outlined in the approved program strategy (pdf):

  1. Increasing transition-age youth self-sufficiency through improved college and career readiness, stronger caregivers, and special services for the most vulnerable youth
  2. Strengthening collaboration and alignment across the systems that influence foster youth outcomes
  3. Developing and disseminating knowledge for the field

Special attention is warranted for two particularly vulnerable sub-populations: pregnant and parenting foster youth, and foster youth who cross over into the juvenile justice system.

The Foundation's strategy directly addresses the challenges foster youth face as they age out of the system, by supporting both programs that meet the needs of particularly vulnerable foster youth, and programs that give all foster youth the skills and support they need to succeed. In addition to this programmatic work, the Foundation supports collaboration and coordination across the systems and organizations that influence outcomes for transition-age youth. 

Systems related to foster youth program

Finally, the Foundation funds the development and dissemination of knowledge that will influence policy, improve practices, and leverage funding to better the lives of foster youth across the nation.

The Hilton Foundation's Foster Youth strategy was launched in March 2012. Recent activities include grants to:

  • University of Southern California to create the Children's Data Network that will link key indicators on child welfare and health, specifically among older foster youth in Los Angeles
  • National Center for Youth Law to support the FosterEd project in Los Angeles County which will work with child welfare and education agencies to create an integrated approach focused on improving the educational outcomes of Los Angeles County foster youth
  • Children's Village to create the Foster Parents Partnering with Teens program in New York City to recruit and provide enhanced supports for foster parents of older youth

Foundation Strategy Documents


Fact Sheet: California's Most Vulnerable Parents: A Population-Based Examination of Youth Involved with Child Protective Services (pdf), Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

California's Most Vulnerable Parents: A Population-Based Examination of Youth Involved with Child Protective Services (pdf), Emily Putnam-Hornstein, 2013.

Fact Sheet - Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent or Delinquent Care in Los Angeles County (pdf), Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent or Delinquent Care in Los Angeles County (pdf), Dennis P. Culhane, Thomas Byrne, Stephen Metraux, Manuel Moreno, Halil Toros, and Max Stevens. 2011.