Early Adult Identification Among Foster Care Youth: Is Emerging Adulthood Lost?
Methods: This study uses data from Wave III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Add Health includes a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7 – 12 in the United States in 1994-1995. Wave III took place in 2001-2002 when these youth were between the ages of 18 to 26. The study sample (n=4624: foster care youth=72; non-foster care youth=4552) is from the public-use dataset, a random subset of the full Add Health sample. The analysis incorporated study design features to correct for the complex sampling design. In a series of logistic regressions, we tested for a primary association between foster care experience and adult identity, and then analyzed the mediating effect of five adult role transitions (i.e. marriage/cohabitation, parenthood, full-time work, finished school, and establishment of an independent household) and two individualistic indicators of adulthood (i.e. financially independent and socially independent).
Results: Overall, study findings show that foster care youth are more likely to identify as an adult all of the time during emerging adulthood. In fact, having foster care experience increases the odds of perceiving oneself as an adult all of the time by a factor of 2.04 (p < .05), when all controls are in the model. Interestingly, foster care youth are no more likely than non-foster care youth to have made adult role transitions or exhibit personal qualities of independence.
Conclusions & Implications: Study findings suggest that foster care youth may have a different experience of emerging adulthood than non-foster care youth. However, it is neither individualistic indicators, nor adult role transitions that explain why foster care youth are identifying as adults earlier than their peers in the general population. Further research is needed to identify mediating factors, as well as consequences of early adult identification. As explained by CAD theory, previous system disadvantages, coupled with socio-cultural disadvantages, may curtail the experience of emerging adulthood for youth with foster care experience. Consequently, these youth are less likely to accumulate the additional advantages of emerging adulthood, such as identity exploration and social capital development.