Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

The Fair Futures Youth Advisory Board is dedicated to advocating for youth who have experience within the foster care system in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Investing in foster youth

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is partnering with RAND to better understand the challenges facing former foster youth, and to develop accessible tools to help these youth get the support they need to thrive.

September 27, 2023

Around 24,000 young people age out of the American foster care system every year. For many, the experience is like being pushed off a cliff. With little or no support, they face high rates of unemployment, incarceration, physical and mental health challenges, and homelessness.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been working for years to improve outcomes for youth transitioning out of the foster care system. The foundation is partnering with RAND to better understand the challenges facing former foster youth, and to develop accessible tools to help these youth get the support they need to thrive. It has funded a series of research projects through a $1.66 million award.

The foundation wanted “something that can actually be transformative for the people we all say we’re in this work for,” said Eundria Hill-Joseph, a strategy, learning, and evaluation officer who supports research for the foundation’s Foster Youth Initiative. At RAND, she added, there’s “this hyper-awareness of doing this work in service to not just policymakers or to us, the funder, but to young people. There’s an empathy there that I really appreciate.”

Conrad N. Hilton established his family foundation nearly 80 years ago to work for a society that leaves nobody behind. Hilton, who built the hotel empire that bears his name, wrote in his will that people around the world “deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness.” The foundation has made foster youth a priority focus of that vision since 2008.

Working with RAND, it identified three areas where research could improve the lives of foster youth transitioning out of the system.

Researchers are building a catalog of resources available to transition-age foster youth in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. That could include everything from food vouchers and housing subsidies to job training and education assistance. No such resource currently exists; in fact, programs for foster youth are so fragmented that different programs have different definitions of who even qualifies as a foster youth. RAND’s project will provide a one-stop tool to help foster youth—and their caregivers and advocates—identify what’s available.

Researchers are also providing a first-of-its-kind look at the lives of foster youth experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. They have started to survey hundreds of transition-age youth about their experiences living on the streets, in shelters, or in other temporary housing. The researchers also plan to follow 25 former foster youth for up to a year, with monthly interviews about their life goals, their housing situations and barriers to stability, and their health and well-being.

Finally, researchers are looking more closely at the supports available for foster care–involved youth who are current or expectant parents themselves. Previous studies have identified stark disparities in the challenges they face, spanning health, education, employment, and social services. RAND’s work will detail what programs and services could improve those outcomes, such as prenatal care, home visits, or family support. Its recommendations will focus especially on high-risk populations, such as African-American, Latinx, and American Indian or Alaska Native youth; males; and LGBTQ+ youth.

“These three projects will each result in something accessible for practitioners or advocates,” Hill-Joseph said. “But they’re also going to help ensure that we’re investing wisely and in a more targeted way.”

The Hilton Foundation has been partnering with RAND since 1994. It has previously funded RAND research on gun violence, criminal justice, and homelessness.

Its current funding is part of a $100 million effort to erase disparities in education, employment, and well-being among transition-age foster youth. “They’re like any other youth,” Hill-Joseph said. “They have the same ambitions, the same aspirations. I worry that when we think ‘foster youth,’ we think ‘deficit,’ instead of all the opportunity for us as a society to invest in them, to bring out all that promise.”