The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Emotional and Social Well-Being of Young Adults From Foster Care

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 5:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Tonia Stott, PhD, Child Welfare Program Coordinator, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Background and Purpose:  Youth who age out of foster care tend to fare poorly in young adulthood.  Although this has been documented in the literature, little is known about the pathways that child welfare policy makers and practitioners could interrupt to produce more positive outcomes.  Relational cultural theory posits that positive emotional and social development occurs in and through healthy, connected relationships.  Foster care placement instability, because of its associated disruptions in relationships and continual relational losses, may be an important but understudied factor in foster youths’ emotional and social development and may hinder them in their transition to adulthood.

Methods:  Data from 114 young adults who turned 18 while in a public child welfare system were used to examine the effect of foster care placement instability on young adult well-being.  The participants participated in a one hour telephonic interview that addressed their educational and employment status and other indicators of well-being such as financial stability and housing stability.  The interview schedule also included three standardized instruments, namely, the Center for Epidemiological Studies – Depression (CES-D; Radloff, 1977), the Self-Esteem Rating Scale-A (SERS-A; Nugent, 2004) and the Network Orientation Scale (NOS; Vaux, Burda, & Stewart, 1986); and one instrument of the author’s creation, a Connectedness in Last Placement scale.  Administrative data concerning placement history was used to create the independent variable, total number of placements.  The impact of placement stability while in foster care on emotional and social well-being in young adulthood was examined while controlling for adversity variables that are commonly associated with greater risk for poor young adult outcomes.  These variables were:  parental substance abuse, domestic violence in the home of a parent, incarceration of a parent, extreme poverty in a parent's home, and having been the victim of parental neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or intimate partner violence before the age of 18. 

Results:  The regression analyses revealed that while controlling for the adversity variables, as the number of foster care placements increased, young adult educational status decreased, employment status decreased, depression scores increased, positive social network orientation decreased, and feelings of connectedness in their last placement decreased.  There was no relationship between the number of placements and self-esteem. 

Conclusions and Implications:  Placement instability is often associated with maladaptive behaviors while in foster care; however, there may also be long-term consequences.  These consequences may be especially detrimental to members of this population who are expected to live independently at an age when many of their non-foster care peers still have the continued supports of their family.  The relational and social network disruptions associated with placement instability may be decreasing youths’ attainment of the very competencies they need to be successful in their transition to young adulthood.  Greater efforts may need to be made to stabilize more placements, to minimize placement changes for systemic reasons, to include youth as empowered participators in decisions about their placements, and to ensure that the losses associated with changes in the youths’ micro and mezzo environments are minimized.