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

Social Capital and Support Provision As Foster Youth Transition to College

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:30 AM
Nautilus 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer E. Blakeslee, PhD, Research Assistant, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background and Purpose:  Older adolescents with foster care experience need comprehensive support embedded in their social networks to successfully navigate important transitions. The availability of this interpersonal support has not yet been assessed in youth network context. This study investigates formal and informal transition support from a social network perspective by systematically measuring personal and service-oriented relationships to identify network-based patterns or ”profiles” associated with social support provision among foster youth transitioning into post-secondary education and training programs. These profiles can be described in terms of “bonding” and “bridging” social capital (Burt, 1992; Coleman, 1988).

Methods:  Study participants (N=34) are young adults (mean age=19.62, SD=1.23) recruited through Independent Living Programs and college programs serving foster youth in Portland, OR. The sample is 65% female, and participants identified as White (53%), Black/African American (21%), Hispanic/Latino (15%), or mixed race/other (15%). Youth were living with foster or adoptive families (44%), biological family (12%), partners or roommates (29%), or alone (15%). Using a name-generating network instrument (adapted from Tracy & Whittaker, 1990), participants identified support network members and reported on the strength of each relationship (frequency, closeness, and duration), the provision of social support (emotional, informational, and concrete), and the presence of ties between members. Network indicators were included in a cluster analysis to create profiles associated with social support provision.

Results:  Cluster analysis distinguished four network profiles, primarily by size and member composition, and these clusters predicted total social support provision (F=5.247, p=.0050), specifically emotional support (F=6.439, p=.002) and informational support (F=5.988, p=.003). Two relatively high-support clusters were distinguished by large and compositionally diverse networks with both strong family-based ties (foster or biological) providing bonding capital, and weaker service-oriented ties providing bridging capital. Of these, the family-oriented cluster that had more bonding than bridging capital also provided the most total support (57% of measurable support). The service-oriented cluster with more bridging than bonding capital also provided relatively high support (44% of measurable support). Relatively less support provision was associated clusters indicating either bonding or bridging capital. A family-oriented cluster indicating some bonding capital with no bridging features provided the second-lowest total support (27%), and a cluster with some bridging but no bonding features provided the least support overall (23%). Representative social network visualizations illustrate cluster differences. 

Conclusions and Implications: In this study, four network-based profiles of support provision emerged based on the size and composition of networks identified by participants. Results indicate that broad and multi-dimensional support is associated with a combination of bonding and bridging features in foster youth networks during the transition to post-secondary education. Smaller networks with only bonding features provided less support, and smaller networks with only bridging features were associated with the least support provision. This conforms the cohesive support function of family-based or permanency-oriented relationships providing bonding capital, but also highlights the support-expanding function of weaker and more compositionally diverse ties to child welfare service providers and post-secondary staff and teachers, as well as friends.