Youth who have been homeless for any period of time after leaving the foster care system appear to have more problems accessing health care than those with stable housing situations, according to a report in the October issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
About 20,000 of the 550,000 children in the U.S. foster care system are emancipated or released from the system due to age each year, according to background information in the article. These youth are at high risk of homelessness and have poor health outcomes, including high rates of drug and alcohol use, unplanned pregnancies and poor mental health outcomes, the authors write. Approximately 40 percent of homeless adults aged 18 to 20 years were in the foster care system as youth.
Margot B. Kushel, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and San Francisco General Hospital, and colleagues in 2002 to 2003 interviewed 749 foster youth age 17 or 18 in Illinois, Wisconsin or Iowa. One year later, 643 youth completed a follow-up interview. On both occasions, participants were asked about their sociodemographics, access to health care, housing situation and physical and mental health status.
At the second interview, about half (45.7 percent) of the participants were still in the foster care system and the rest were emancipated. Among those who had left the system, 14.2 percent had experienced homelessness and 39.4 percent had unstable housing situations, meaning that since emancipation they had moved three or more times or that they spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent.
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