On Monday, March 2, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted “Foster care and Prison: Connecting the (right) dots.” Naomi Schaefer Riley, a resident fellow at AEI, led the panel’s discussion on youth’s outcomes after involvement with the foster care and criminal justice systems.

Laura Bauer, a journalist at Kansas City Star, shared results from the year-long investigative report, “Throwaway Kids,” she and her colleague Judy Thomas conducted on outcomes for America’s foster care children. Bauer interviewed inmates across 12 states, amounting to over 5,800 surveyed. Of those surveyed, 1 in 4 had been in foster care at some point in their lives. Baurer shared that Kansas and Florida are facing lawsuits for not providing adequate mental health services and moving children between multiple families, causing additional trauma.

The next speaker was Sean Hughes, the Government Relations Partner at Social Change Partners. Hughes emphasized the importance of providing transitional help to youth in foster care. He cited that only 23% of youth accessing transitional programs are receiving employment support or vocational training, and more needs to be done to increase job access and support youth’s transition to independence.

Rebecca Padot, a faculty member at Misericordia University, talked about a youth whose guardians were incarcerated, leading them to be placed in foster care. Padot highlighted the First Step Act, which aims to decrease the incarcerated population and prevent reoffences. She suggested the implementation of “child liaisons,” similar to Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, where community members would volunteer to be a role model for the foster care youth for five years.

The final speaker was Greg McKay, COO of Childhelp and a former police officer in Arizona and former Director of Arizona’s Department of Child Safety (DCS). McKay dove into the connection between foster care and criminal justice systems. In Arizona, he stated that “many older youths who had committed crimes were placed in foster care, rather than juvenile detention centers.” McKay advocated for rehabilitation services for youth in these situations, rather than placing them in foster care.

Overall, the event demonstrated how many children are underprepared when transitioning out of the foster care system, leading them to be at a higher risk for homelessness and ultimately incarceration. In addition to transition programs and mental health services, it’s important for youth to have minimal transfers between foster families.

To watch the event, go here.