Many children in foster care in Indiana lack access to important services they need to shift from state care to independent adulthood, according to a new report.
The report being released today by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, an arm of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compares data on foster care systems from each state. Few teens in Indiana get housing and educational help critical to successfully moving away from foster care to living on their own, the report says.
Just 4 percent of teens ages 14 and older have access in Indiana to educational financial assistance, according to the report. Nationwide, 23 percent of foster children the same age have access to that help.
Only 3 percent of those in foster care in Indiana get help with paying for room and board, the initiative found, compared with 19 percent nationally.
More than 171,000 children are in foster care in the U.S., and the report's authors say the first-of-its-kind report is a way to “shine a light” on those children and highlight what is and is not effective in programs across the country. Figures were collected from state and national databases, and the report focuses on people age 14 to 21.
“It has potential to spur policy reform,” Leslie Gross, the initiative's director, said Monday. “This really gives us that information on every single state to paint a picture. The real important piece is educating people about what these outcomes look like and acting on it.”
Gross and Brent Kent, who runs an Indianapolis nonprofit that helps foster children access benefits such as money for college, said racial disparities among placements in foster care programs are of particular interest.
In Indiana, 49 percent of African-Americans in foster care are placed into the system at least three times, according to the report.
For whites, the rate is 36 percent.
Kent, of Indiana Connected by 25, said support such as financial help and job training can lead to better outcomes for those in the system.
“Those numbers start to tell a story,” he said. “Those kids, when they leave care, where do they end up?”
The report attempts to provide some answers, though Kent cautioned that some of the data is based on surveys. Surveys likely weren't completed by people who left foster care and were less successful, which could skew the data, he said.
Still, the report shows Indiana foster care alumni outpaced those in other states in areas such as gaining full-time employment by age 21 (51 percent to 49 percent) and earning a high school diploma or GED by the same age (82 percent to 76 percent).
State offices were closed Monday to observe Veterans Day, and officials with the Indiana Department of Child Services, which oversees the foster care program, could not be reached.