The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Strengthening Youth Connections to Caring Adults: A Newly Developed Tool

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 8:30 AM
Nautilus 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Annette M. Semanchin Jones, MSW, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Traci LaLiberte, PhD, Executive Director, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Purpose:   Preparing foster youth for permanent, lifelong connections is an important step in achieving successful outcomes into adulthood.  Research findings indicate positive effects of youth connections to supportive adults, including improved socio-emotional, psychological, and financial outcomes, such as enhanced social skill development, self-esteem and educational achievement (Massinga & Pecora, 2004; Perry, 2006). The Youth Connections Scale was developed based upon a review of this current research, which also indicated that no other validated tools were published that measured the relational permanence and level of connectedness of foster youth.  The tool is scored on a scale from 0 to 100 and consists of four sections which measure:  (1) the number of connections, (2) strength of those connections; (3) types of supports; and (4) overall level of connectedness of foster youth to caring and supportive adults.  The objective of the current study was to test the validity and reliability of the newly developed tool, the Youth Connections Scale.

Method:    Three county and six private child welfare agencies participated in this pilot study to validate the Youth Connections Scale. The inclusion criteria for the sample of participating youth (n=52) in these agencies included the following:  (1) youth were between the ages of 15 and 21; (2) youth were currently in a foster care placement; and (3) youth were cognitively and developmentally able to complete the survey with their social workers (as assessed by the social workers and their supervisors).  Data was collected by the youths’ social workers in participating agencies, all of whom completed a 45-minute orientation training with the researcher.  The social workers assisted the youth in completing the Youth Connections Scale at two points in time, with the second testing within one to two weeks, to assess the test-retest reliability of the Youth Connections Scale. When the youth completed the Youth Connections Scale the first time, they also completed one part of an already validated scale, the Social Support Behaviors (SSB) Scale (Vaux, Riedel & Stewart, 1987), to test the concurrent validity of the Youth Connections Scale.

Results:  Outcome data from the test-retest reliability analysis indicate a statistically significant and strong correlation (r=.89, p<.001).  For the test of concurrent validity, results of this test also indicate a statistically significant and moderately strong correlation (r=.74, p<.001), when comparing the Youth Connections Scale to another validated scale that measures similar constructs of the quality and type of supportive relationships.  

Implications:  Results of this pilot study suggest that the Youth Connections Scale may be a valid and reliable tool to measure the relational permanence of youth in foster care, particularly in measuring the number and strength of connections to caring adults, the types of support from caring adults and the overall level of youth connectedness.  Child welfare agencies can use this tool to evaluate their programs, as well as utilizing the Youth Connections Scale to focus and improve their practices around helping youth maintain and strengthen connections and relationships to supportive adults, which has been shown to be critical to sustained youth well-being.