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Israeli youth in foster care: who are they and what do they need?


Background. Transition into adulthood is a challenge to every young person, let alone for youth in care. Because out-of-home placement in Israel ends at the age of 18, one major issue concerns the preparation of these young people for independent living. In Israel this is an even more complex issue given the mandatory army service for boys and girls in this age group (for 2 and 3 years respectively). Ideological and historical reasons led to most of out-of-home placements in Israel being in residential settings.

Thus, contrary to other Western countries only about 20% of placements are with foster care services. Due to recent privatization of foster care services in Israel, they are now run by three NGOs that are funded by the government. After a placement decision to foster care service is made, these organizations are responsible for the actual placement and follow-up on children. To date, there is no data on the state of these youth and their readiness for independent living. Such data is needed in order to develop services that will support these youngsters during and after their transition into independent living.

 Purpose. The purpose of this paper is to describe the readiness and needs for independent living of youth approaching termination of foster care and to identify those who require more support.

 Methods. The sample is comprised of 88 youth at the age of 16-19 who currently stay with foster families under the auspices of the NGO providing foster care services to the greater Jerusalem area. For each young person, the social worker was asked to complete an anonymous survey. In addition to foster care characteristics and sources of support and stress of each youth, the questionnaire had items in three domains: 1) youth's current skills and abilities in different areas of independent living; 2) the likelihood that certain events will take place in the life of youth in the future; and 3) needs that youth currently have in different areas related to the transition out of care.

Key findings. Only one-third of the youth stay in kin foster care and two thirds do not have biological siblings in foster care. Median length of stay in foster care is six years.

For about one-half of the youth, the current foster care is their first out-of-home placement and an additional one-third had one previous placement. According to the social workers, the biological parents are mostly a source of stress for the young people, thus most of them seek support and comfort with either their foster families or other family members.

While workers think that the majority of the youth have good abilities and skills in the areas of education, army service, work, personal hygiene, involvement in the community and normative behaviors, their assessment in the areas of household and money management, some interpersonal relationships and professional help seeking were not so high.

Moreover, the social workers do not view a bright future for many young people and certainly much lower than their perceptions of the youths' abilities and skills. Finally, workers identify needs for further support in almost every aspect that was examined. While the vast majority of youth do not need continuation of care in protected facilities, most need guidance and support with regard to army service, searching for a job, money management, housing, higher education and independent life in the community.

Recommendations. Every young person needs guidance and support in order to become independent. This task is most often fulfilled by the biological nuclear family. Foster families take only a relatively small part in this challenge because foster care officially ends at the age of 18. The results of this study indicate that most young people in the foster care have much need in many aspects of independent life, especially with the immediate situation of becoming a 'sole soldier'. Therefore, both social workers and foster families should give special attention to skills and needs that these young people have.

Finally, all parties that are involved during the time the youth are in care and those that meet them when they first leave care should join forces and help them actualize their skills and abilities in order to allow them a more successful transition into adulthood and hopefully away from the vicious cycle of dependency on social services.

Key references

Barth, R. (1990). On their own: The experiences of youth after foster care. Child and Adolescent Social Work, 7(5), 419-440.

Biehal, N., & Wade, J. (1996). Looking back, looking forward: Care leavers, families and change. Children and Youth Services Review, 18(4/5), 425-445.

Cashmore, J., & Paxman, M. (2006). Wards leaving care: Follow up five years later, Children Australia, 31(3), 18-25.

Courtney, M., & Dworsky, A. (2006). Early outcomes for young adults transitioning from out-of-home care in the USA. Child and Family Social Work, 11(3), 209- 219.

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., Williams, J., O'Brien, K., Downs, A. C., English, D., White, J., Hiripi, E., White, C. R., Wiggins, T., & Holmes, K. E. (2005). Improving family foster care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs. Available at http://www.casey.org.

Schiff, M., & Benbenishty, R. (2006). Functioning of Israeli group-homes alumni: Exploring gender differences and in-care correlates. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(2), 133-157.

Stein, M. (2006). Research review: Young people leaving care. Child and Family Social Work, 11, 276-279.

Contacts: Anat Zeira, School of Social Work and Social Welfare, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel, E-mail: msanatz@mscc.huji.ac.il, Phone +972-2-5882082.

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