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Journal Issue: Children, Families, and Foster Care Volume 14 Number 1 Winter 2004

Providing Better Opportunities for Older Children in the Child Welfare System
Ruth Massinga Peter J. Pecora


A growing number of children over age 10 reside in and emancipate from foster care every year. Older children face many of the same challenges as younger children, but they also have unique developmental needs. This article discusses older children in the child welfare system and finds:

  • Approximately 47% of children in foster care are over age 11, and in 2001, 20% of children leaving foster care were over age 16.

  • Older children need permanency, stability, and a “forever family.” Maintaining connections with siblings and other kin can be a crucial resource for older children as they transition to independence.

  • Former foster children are at higher risk for a number of negative outcomes, such as substance abuse, homelessness, and low educational attainment, but the research on older youth is limited and often does not consider the strengths these youth exhibit.

Much can be done to better serve older children while they are in care and to provide them with better opportunities as they transition out of the system. Programs that draw on community resources, promote a system of care, link children to mentors, and teach them life skills hold promise for improving the lives of these children.