Experts say the instability of foster care often adds trauma to the lives of children in the system, with special challenges for older youths.
A new report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation says the impact often leads to lower graduation rates, early parenting, homelessness and unemployment for youth age 14 and up.
The report by state looks at teens in the foster care system and how they're faring - in Tennessee, that's almost 6,000 children.
Leslie Gross, director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative at the Casey Foundation, explains this population has some important needs.
"We really need better policies that promote permanency," she stresses. "We need to ensure that young people are growing up in families, and this really means supporting biological families, so that young people can stay at home. And if they have to be in care, policies that support young people, as well as foster families who are willing to care for older youth."
Gross says the report is intended to give policymakers a better understanding of the challenges of teens living in foster care, and what it takes to prepare them for life as they age out of the system. That includes helping them graduate and get stable housing and vocational training.
More than 65 percent of Tennessee teens in foster care find permanent, which exceeds the 43 percent national average.
Michael Leach, the state's deputy commissioner of Child Programs, says one goal is to avoid frequent moves, which can have negative effects on foster children.
"Tennessee prides itself in making sure that our kids are connected to their families so that we're strengthening the family," he states. "So, we love it when we see that the percentage - you know, statewide permanency - is as high as it is compared to the national average."
The report says solutions will require more foster care parents and a greater investment in programs with proven records of equipping young people for future success.