Abstract: Receipt of Help Acquiring Independent Living Skills and Outcomes for Foster Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12995 Receipt of Help Acquiring Independent Living Skills and Outcomes for Foster Youth Making the Transition to Adulthood

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 5:30 PM
Garden Room B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Mark Courtney, PhD , University of Washington, Professor, Seattle, WA
Amy Dworsky , University of Chicago, Senior Researcher, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: U.S. policy focusing on the transition to adulthood for foster youth emphasizes the provision of services intended to prepare young people for independence (Collins 2001; 2004; Courtney 2008). However, a systematic review of research on independent living services found no rigorously developed evidence supporting the effectiveness of independent living services (Montgomery et al 2006) and two recent experimental evaluations also found no effects of the programs studied (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008). Research is needed on the relationship between services provided to foster youth and indicators of functioning during the transition to adulthood. This presentation describes the relationship between self-reported receipt of help directed towards preparing foster youth for adulthood and a range of young adult outcomes.

Methods: Our analysis uses data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, a longitudinal study following foster youth transitioning to adulthood. Analyses rely on interview data collected at study baseline when the young people were 17-18 years old (n = 732; 95% response rate) and at age 21 (n = 591; 81% follow-up). Key independent variables include self-report measures of assistance received by the young people between baseline and age 21 in the areas of health, employment, education, housing, and financial management directed towards preparing them for independence. Covariates include demographic characteristics and baseline measures of family, maltreatment and placement history, education, employment, health and mental health, prior crime, prior pregnancy, and social support. Dependent variables include multiple measures of functioning at age 21 in the areas of education, employment, economic well-being/hardship, housing stability, and health. Assessing the relationship between receipt of assistance and later outcomes involved OLS and logistic regression analyses controlling for baseline covariates and instrumental variable models where an appropriate instrument could be identified (the health/mental health and education outcomes).

Results: OLS and logistic regression analyses identified positive relationships between self-reported receipt of assistance and some outcomes at age 21: educational outcomes (HS/GED completion and college enrollment); having a checking/savings account; reduced pregnancy since baseline; receipt of dental care in the past year. Instrumental variable regression models found associations between receipt of assistance and reduced likelihood of alcohol and drug diagnoses, increased receipt of primary health care in the past year, and reduced pregnancy since baseline. No relationships were found between receipt of assistance and outcomes in the areas of employment and housing. A number of baseline covariates (e.g., delinquency, lack of employment experience, and educational deficits) have large negative associations with many markers of a successful transition to adulthood.

Conclusions/Implications: Acknowledging the limitations of the use of non-experimental methods, this study provides some support for providing foster youth in transition to adulthood with some of the kinds of assistance called for in law. However, the absence of a relationship between many key outcomes and a variety of sources of help called for by law, and routinely provided by child welfare agencies, calls for a continuing commitment to evaluation research on the effectiveness of independent living services.