During emerging adulthood (EA), most youth receive family support to help them weather the difficulties associated with transitioning to independence. When foster youth (FY) emancipate, they confront the challenges associated with EA, and are at risk of having to transition without family support. Many are in danger of failing to meet minimal levels of self-sufficiency. A caring adult who offers social support is normative for adolescent development and protective for youth across many risk conditions. Natural mentoring (NM) can cultivate such relationships. This study examines associations between NM relationship characteristics and EA outcomes, considering the mediating effect of future expectations.
Data are from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a cohort study that began in 1994. Waves 1 and 3, when youth were in 7th-12th grades, and were between ages 18-26, respectively are used. Of the 14,823 respondents in Wave 3, 8,151 reported having a natural mentor at any time since age 14 (n=165 former FY; n=7,977 non-former FY). Dependent variables are material hardship (MH) and asset-related outcomes (own residence, own car, have bank account). Independent variables are NM roles and NM relationship strength. Path models are estimated using Maximum Likelihood with standard errors robust to non-normality and non-independence of observations.
Having a NM perceived as a “role model” predicted having a bank account at Wave 3 for former FY (B = .33, p = .00) and others (B = .05, p = .00). Having mentors who had been “like a parent” also predicted (income expectations: B = .67, p = .01 former FY; car: B = .06, p = .01 non-former FY). Greater income expectations were associated with decreased MH and owning a car at Wave 3 (MH: B = -.04, p = .03 former FY; B = -.02, p = .00 non-former FY; car: B = .08, p = .04 former FY; B = .04, p = .00 non-former FY). Among the non-former FY sample, NM was associated with having a bank account (B = .05, p = .00), and relationship strength was associated with decreased MH (B = -.01, p = .01) at Wave 3. Results suggested mediation. Greater relationship strength was associated with car ownership (B = .003, p = .02) and having a bank account (B = .002, p = .02) as a function of greater income expectations.
Conclusions & Implications:
Findings support previous research on the benefits of growth-fostering relationships with caring adults. Findings also extend this research by highlighting the value of understanding the specific features of NM relationships for intervention development, and accounting for how individual risk (i.e., foster care experience) can shape associations between relationship characteristics and outcomes. Results broaden previous research by focusing on self-sufficiency and assets, suggesting policy relevance of NM for assets-building among child welfare and normative populations. Describing associations between relationship characteristics and EA outcomes is the first step in justifying the incorporation of NM into standard child welfare practices, and advocating NM as an assets-building intervention across young adult populations.