The Colorado Springs Gazette

High school graduation is key, says study

Individuals who ‘age out’ of Colorado’s foster care system face a slew of challenges


Anew study paints a grim and costly landscape for individuals who “age out” of Colorado’s foster care system, adding that state policy should focus on, among other things, increasing their high school graduation rate.

The report from the Common Sense Institute said those who turn 18 or 21 — and thereby no longer benefit from foster care arrangements, notably services and placements with families — face a slew of challenges, such as unemployment, limited education and access to health care, homelessness, early parenthood, mental health problems and substance abuse.

“Each carries heavy economic and social tolls,” said the report, which looked into the societal costs of 200-plus foster kids aging out of the state system each year on average.

The study said they incur lifetime costs of $66 million to $73 million — or between $309,614 and $343,453 per person.

Over time, the costs compound, the study said.

For five years — meaning for more than 1,000 young people who age

out of the system — the costs range from from $330 million to $366 million.

In a decade, the number jumps to as high as $732 million.

To arrive at these figures, the study’s authors looked at the per person cost of incarceration (up to $131,209); education ($195,155 as a result of failing to graduate from high school); early parenthood ($12,200) and homelessness ($4,889).

Colorado’s foster care system had an average of 5,127 youth between 2017 and 2021. In 2020 and 2021, more young people exited than entered the state’s foster care system.

About one in 25 age out of the system each year, the study’s authors noted.

“Coloradans are paying the societal and economic costs on the back end of a foster care intervention that did not lead to permanency,” said study authors John Farnam, DJ Summers and Cole Anderson.

“Policies which pay for performance at the front end and invest in high school graduation are key,” they added.

Indeed, the study’s authors noted that, in 2022, only 30 percent of foster care youth graduated from high school, the worst among students in special curricula. By comparison, homeless children’s high school graduation rate is twice that rate at 55.4 percent.

The authors said that, assuming an average work life of 40 years, the lifetime educational attainment losses amounts to almost $42 million for 213 young people, the average number aging out of the foster care system each year.

The authors noted that, under the Higher Education Support for Foster Youth Act, the state is required to pay whatever a student who had been in foster care cannot raise to attend a public university.

“With the lowest high school graduation rate among Colorado’s students, the state needs to address high school graduation first, before the rest of its postsecondary plans and goals can even be implemented,” the authors said.

The authors also offered a slew of policy proposals they said would help. They included the following:

• Repurpose child welfare dollars for foster youth education savings accounts, under which the money is redirected to the individual instead of the educational system. Other states have embraced this approach, the authors said.

• Incentivize efforts to increase graduation rates. The authors proposed giving foster parents, for example, an additional $5,000 cash stipend upon a foster child’s graduation from high school.

• Eliminate “bureaucratic hurdles” when foster kids try to transfer credit across school, district or state lines. The authors proposed creating a centralized virtual “school district,” which a student enrolls into upon entering foster care.

“The costs borne by this small group of foster youth are borne by the state at large,” the authors said. “Redirecting dollars into their educational success will not only benefit an at-risk population, but the state as a whole.”





The Gazette, Colorado Springs