Press Release

Raising the Bar Research Brief

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: How Data Science is Being Used to Individualize Extended Foster Care Services and Achieve Equitable Outcomes

OAKLAND, CA – March 18, 2021 – New research released today by First Place for Youth draws from precision analytics to offer customized support plans to greatly improve the likelihood that a foster youth will successfully transition to adulthood and earn a living wage. First Place for Youth, a 20+ year veteran in the foster youth support world, is using data science and precision analytics to make new predictions about how we better serve transition-age foster youth in the United States. A key focal point of their research entails delivering these personalized plans through a framework of extended care, customized milestones and a clear focus on education to employment. The goal? Support foster youth to help them build the comprehensive skills needed to make a successful transition to self-sufficiency and responsible adulthood.

Every year, nearly 25,000 youth who have grown up in the foster care system turn 18. According to a 2011 study, by age 26: nearly 40% of foster youth will experience homelessness, 20% will not have a high school diploma, and less than 5% will graduate from a four-year college. In addition, 43% of females and 74% of males will have been incarcerated — compared to 6% of their peers. Not surprisingly, more than half of this vulnerable population will also face unemployment. Like many of their peers, transition-age foster youth benefit greatly from receiving additional support on their paths to self-sufficiency. And, while extending the timeline for foster service eligibility has had tremendous positive outcomes for transition-age youth, the additional runway of support has not been tied to college persistence or increased earnings in adulthood.

To shed light on how to better serve these young people, First Place for Youth collaborated with Dr. Mark Courtney and the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood (CalYOUTH) team to reveal which experiences and characteristics may contribute to the likelihood of accessing different service types within extended foster care, and to begin to identify the particular aspects of extended care associated with positive outcomes. First Place for Youth then partnered with Peter York, MSSA and his team at BCT Partners to develop the Youth Success Roadmap Tool, a web-based decision-support system for practitioners. This novel tool uses precision modeling and data analytics to recommend individualized, interactive road maps of services and milestones for transition age foster youth.

Within the largest participant group studied, First Place for Youth revealed that when youth were properly supported with a combination of extended care alongside customized services and support, their likelihood of achieving 80% or more of the living wage standard increased from 20% to 80%.

“In taking an actionable approach focused on what best serves young people, First Place for Youth committed to a common evidence plan in service of more effective, equitable outcomes for foster care youth, and they delivered.”

Kelly Fitzsimmons
Founder and Chief Executive
Project Evident

“Some of the most compelling data we found using the roadmap tool indicated that the amount of time youth need to reach self-sufficiency in the program ranges from one-and-a-half to five-and-a-half years. This is a huge range and strongly suggests the need for service providers to effectively assess a young person’s unique background and recommend a customized roadmap using a racial equity lens,” said Peter York, Principal and Chief Data Scientist at BCT Partners.

The investigation illuminated high-impact goals and services that can guide a youth’s trajectory towards a living wage:


  • Career progress
  • Good household maintenance
  • Relationship stability
  • Public assistance
  • Mental well-being and employment preparation
  • Self-efficacy and long-term goal setting


  • Length of stay
  • Level of engagement with care manager
  • Engagement with employment specialists
  • Prioritizing parenting goals (for parents)
  • Household management goals

“In this brief, First Place for Youth embodies next-generation nonprofit leadership by answering the call to action and building evidence strategically with like-minded evaluation partners. In taking an actionable approach focused on what best serves young people, First Place for Youth committed to a common evidence plan in service of more effective, equitable outcomes for foster care youth, and they delivered. We need more of this in the world,” said Kelly Fitzsimmons, Founder and Chief Executive, Project Evident.

Looking ahead, First Place for Youth intends to use this methodology in combination with its policy expertise to help elevate outcomes for foster youth both in its own programs and at other foster care organizations.

“At the end of the day it’s about growing a more effective and equitable foster care system. It’s about the youth we serve,” said Dr. Erika Van Buren, Vice President of Learning, Evaluation & Strategic Impact at First Place for Youth. “When I look at the future of our organization, I see First Place for Youth as connective tissue between policy, technology and improved outcomes for foster youth across the United States.”

ABOUT FIRST PLACE FOR YOUTH: Founded in 1998, First Place for Youth envisions a world in which involvement in the foster care system does not limit young people’s opportunity to thrive. Its mission is to support foster youth to build the comprehensive skills needed to make a successful transition to self-sufficiency and responsible adulthood. First Place provides evidence-based, results-driven direct services to more than 1,500 foster youth each year in six California counties—Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Solano—and through its My First Place™ Network with partner providers in Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and Mississippi. For more information, visit, follow @FPFY on Twitter, or connect on Facebook.

Vicki Whitlock
Press Contact, First Place for Youth
510.272.0979 ext. 262

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