Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16845 Evaluating the Self-Expressed Unmet Needs of Emancipated Foster Youth Over Time

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:30 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Colleen E. Cary, LMSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Youth who age out of the foster care system tend to struggle with the transition to independent adulthood (Courtney et al, 2010; Pecora et al, 2005). Legislators have long been interested in service provision intended to aid emancipating foster youth navigate this transition. Such provision usually takes place in the context of formalized Independent Living Programs at foster care agencies or in the context of relationships between foster youth and case workers and/or foster parents. This study examines the self-expressed unmet needs of youth who have been emancipated from the foster care system in the states of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. All of the youth included in this study were participants in the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study), a longitudinal study following a sample of young adults making the transition from foster care to independent adulthood.

Methods: Our study examines the percentages of youths in the Midwest Study who expressed that they had unmet needs pertaining to preparation for independent adulthood. The data for our study were collected when the youths were at the approximate ages of 17 (N=732), 19 (N=603) and 21 (N=591). The baseline response rate was 95% and follow-up response rates exceeded 80%. The questionnaire administered by trained interviewers included an open-ended question that asked participants if there were services pertaining to independent living that they required from their foster care agencies and had not received while in care. These qualitative responses were subsequently coded into the following categories: (1) finances; (2) housing; (3) health; (4) education; (5) employment; (6) life skills; (7) relationships and (8) all of the above. Using descriptive statistics we evaluate how these perceptions of need, and how these specific categories of perceived need, change over time as the youth aged and encountered different challenges associated with living independently.

Results: Our data show that there is a sizeable percentage of youths who felt that they had at least one unmet need pertaining to their transition to adulthood (35% at age 17, 28% at age 19 and 36% at age 21). Youths who expressed that their needs went unmet were particularly concerned with the lack of adequate preparation in the areas of finance and housing. Interestingly, it appears as though the level of reported unmet need increases in certain categories (i.e. employment and education) as youth age. We hypothesize this could be a result of youths encountering new challenges associated with independent living, and feeling underprepared to handle such challenges.

Implications: This study assesses the expressed service needs of foster youth in transition using a larger and more representative sample than those used in prior research. Further, the longitudinal data allow us to draw conclusions about how these trends change over time as youth move into different stages of their adulthood. These findings can inform service providers' efforts to construct programs that are better able to meet the needs of emancipating foster youth at emancipation, and over the course of the years following emancipation.

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