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

Helping Older Youth in Foster Care Attain Lifelong Connections

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Kelly V. Gordon, BA, Research Assistant, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Jessica Ranweiler, BA, Research Assistant, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Berenice Rushovich, MSW, Research Specialist, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Elizabeth J. Greeno, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Kantahyanee Murray, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Purpose. Family Finders work to establish supportive relationships between youth in foster care and family members. While the program works with a wide age range, the majority of participants are older youth (Child Trends, 2011) and there is a high need for programs that work with this population in the child welfare system. Despite the difficulty with placing older youth, proponents of Family Finding (FF) assert that this service produces an array of positive outcomes for these adolescents. Few studies have examined the process of FF and ways FF impacts youth.  Moreover, the perspectives of Family Finders have been largely overlooked.   Using data from seven counties in one state, this study examines 1) the extent to which older youth who receive FF services experience increased commitments from relatives to be involved in their lives and, 2) FF workers perceptions of FF practice and enhanced youth well-being.  

Methods. This study employs a mixed methods research design to describe the process outcomes of FF and perceptions of well-being outcomes for youth in foster care as reported by FF social workers in seven local departments of social services in one state. Data collected at each stage of the FF process were analyzed to identify patterns in the numbers of family members contacted and engaged during a one-year period.  (An engaged relative commits to involvement in the youth’s life but the level of involvement varies by case).  Two focus groups with a total of ten participants and two semi-structured interviews were conducted with Family Finders to examine engagement techniques, challenges with cases, suggestions for enhancing the process, and worker perceptions of FF's positive benefits for foster youth.

Results. During the one year study period, 144 youths in foster care received FF services. The average age of youth in the state’s FF system was 15.7 years old; about 66% of participants were African American, 22% were White, 7% were Latino, and the remaining 4% identified as other race.  A total of 1,605 relatives were found (an average of 11 relatives per youth served) and 508 relatives were engaged (an average of four relatives per youth served).  The FF workers reported a strong commitment to adhering to the multi-stage FF process and a belief that FF enhances casework and traditional child welfare services.  Family Finders also reported that youth experienced a range of positive well-being outcomes as a result of the FF process including enhanced mental health, improved social skills, and increased grades.

Implications: This study suggests that even when adolescents are not placed with relatives, FF offers the potential for youth in care to attain lifelong connections and experience enhanced well-being.  FF may help older youth in foster care to increase the number of relatives in their social support system and facilitate youths' transition out of care by enhancing psycho-social functioning and educational success.  Study findings point to the importance of measuring quality of life outcomes for youth receiving FF and exploring social worker perspectives to identify effective FF practice strategies.