2008 Survey of Washington State Youth in Foster Care

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In what is being called the most extensive single-state, direct survey of foster youth about their experiences in care, about three-quarters of the nearly 700 youths surveyed said they felt very positive about their current foster placements. However, slightly more than one in four said they were dissatisfied with the quality of support provided by their social workers, with most complaining that their social workers didn't "listen/respond" and/or didn't "follow through with commitments." Nearly 40 percent of youth surveyed had had four or more social workers assigned to their cases since entering care.

The phone survey is part of a broad reform effort triggered by a 2004 lawsuit by advocacy groups to force improvements in Washington state's foster care system. 

Thirty percent of the 15- to 18-year-olds surveyed said they had been suspended or expelled from school during 2007, and about 25 percent said they had run away from a placement that year. Survey respondents had been placed in an average of four foster homes during their time in care, and nearly one-fifth reported that they had been placed in at least 10 different homes since they had entered care. Only half of the youths lived in the same foster placement for all of 2007.

In addition to the surveys, discussion groups with foster youth were conducted in three counties. Researchers note that many of the youths in those groups said they felt unprepared for life after foster care. The problems most cited were with purchasing and preparing food, paying bills and managing money, and the youths said they would like more instruction in those areas

Despite the worries, only slightly more than one-third of the youths said they had been invited to attend a "shared planning" meeting with social workers, which are required by the state to discuss transition from foster care. As a result of the 2004 lawsuit, the state must show evidence that it is inviting 75 percent of foster youth aging out of care to attend such meetings.

According to the survey, nearly 95 percent of those youths invited by the state to participate in a shared transition-planning meeting accepted the invitation. Free online, 160 pages. (866) 363-4276, www.braampanel.org/YouthSurveyDataReport2008.pdf.

Source: Children's Administration, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 2008.