The University of Chicago

School of Social Service Administration Magazine

Volume 22 | Issue 1 | Winter 2015
Life After Care Inaugural Richman Postdoctoral Fellow studies the difficulties for Israeli youth leaving child welfare

In Israel, although military service is mandatory for Jewish youth after high school, the military can decline to enroll anyone who has physical, mental or behavioral problems, such as a criminal record. Studies have shown that fewer young people who have been in the Israeli child welfare system join the military than their peers—–and that many who do face difficulties adjusting to the service. It’s a telling sign of the fact that, as in the United States, youth who “age out” of the child welfare system can have difficulty acclimating to life on their own.

In a longitudinal study of Israeli youth who have aged out of living in residential placements by Yafit Sulimani-Aidan, 70 percent of the care leavers joined the military, a relatively high figure. But she and her co-authors also found that almost half were tried in a military court and one out of five went AWOL. And the study found these young people have unstable living arrangements and struggle to achieve financial independence after leaving care.

The study, “Care Leavers in Israel: What Contributes to Better Adjustment After Care?” published in 2013 in the Journal of Social Service Research, studied 236 young people during their final year of high school and one year later. The researchers also found factors that contributed to a better transition out of care: optimism, readiness to leave care, and social support from peers, family, and staff.

This fall Sulimani-Aidan is continuing her exploration of these issues as the first Harold Richman Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago, a joint position shared by SSA and Chapin Hall. It honors Richman, former dean of SSA and founder of Chapin Hall, who died in 2009. The study was Sulimani-Aidan’s doctoral dissertation at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Many of the papers Sulimani-Aidan and her co-authors cite in “Care Leavers In Israel” were written by SSA Professor Mark Courtney, a leading expert on the topic in the United States. Sulimani-Aidan says that the fellowship will allow her to work with Courtney and his colleague Amy Dworsky, a senior researcher at Chapin Hall, to learn more about how the U.S. works with young people leaving care.

“Compared with the United States, there are very limited services for young people who leave care in Israel at the age of 18,” Sulimani-Aidan says. “Although there are differences in the two systems, the young people experience many of the same problems, like low income, instability in housing and low education.”

Sulimani-Aidan says that factors that may help young people after aging out include more preparation for adjustment while in residential settings, better adjustment programs while in the military, encouragement to involve parents while the adolescents are in care, and services to support their transition during the first years of leaving care.

— William Harms