Session: Ties to Adulthood: An Examination of the Ontogeny, Etiology, and Impact of Social Support Among Current and Former Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

193 Ties to Adulthood: An Examination of the Ontogeny, Etiology, and Impact of Social Support Among Current and Former Foster Youth

Saturday, January 16, 2016: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Ballroom Level-Renaissance Ballroom West Salon B (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Andrew Zinn, PhD, University of Kansas
Background: Research suggests that social support influences a number of young-adult outcomes, including social adjustment, education, and employment. Unlike other youth, however, foster youths' ties to their families, peers, and communities may be severely attenuated by the experiences of maltreatment and placement in foster care. Given that many foster youth face the cessation of state support once they reach the age of majority, questions concerning the nature and impact of social support are of particular relevance for policies and interventions intended to facilitate foster youths' transition to independence. In this symposium, we describe four studies that examine different aspects of foster youth's social support, including the nature and development of social support over the transition to adulthood, breadth and quality of youths' support networks, and relationships among different types of support and young-adult outcomes.

Methods: The first paper examines social support development across the transition to adulthood using growth mixture models, and examines the relationships among social support development, attachment, and youths' relationships with biological family. Using latent class analysis, the second paper attempts to identify distinct kinship family household types based on the relatedness of kinship household members, and then explores the interrelationships among kinship family household type, youth's contact with biological family, and perceived social support. Using a sample of Israeli care leavers, the third paper examines the potential role of social support networks in mediating and moderating the relationship between prior negative events and psycho-social well-being and functioning. The final paper examines the respective relationships between foster youths' social network composition (e.g., bridging ties), receipt of encouragement from school staff, and youths' subsequent college enrollment.

Results: Collectively, these papers underscore the complex interrelationships among social support network structure, type of social support, and the prior experiences of foster youth The results of the first paper indicate that social support development among foster youth is characterized by stark heterogeneity. Specifically, while certain groups of youth experience steady decreases or increases in social support, others experience sharp discontinuities or reversals of valence. The results of the study of kinship care suggest that youth-caregiver relatedness (e.g., grandparent) is a reflection of youth's prior care histories and attachment, and that relatedness and attachment influence youths' level of perceived social support. The results of the study of Israeli youth suggest that social support networks mediate (but do not moderate) the relationships between prior negative life events and youths' psychosocial well-being and functioning. Finally, the study of college enrollment suggests that enrollment is influenced by a combination of bridging ties and encouragement, but that this relationship is moderated by youths' academic abilities.

Conclusions: The etiology, ontogeny, and impact of social support among former foster youth is complex. On the one hand, social support may mediate the impact of prior experiences and trauma. Conversely, the influence of social support may be moderated by differences in youth characteristics and circumstances. Together, the results of these papers underscore both the importance, and challenges, in targeting social support as a mechanism to facilitate youths' transition to adulthood.

* noted as presenting author
Foster Youths' Social Support Across the Transition to Adulthood
Andrew Zinn, PhD, University of Kansas; Eunji Nam, MA, University of Kansas; Ashley N. Palmer, MSW, University of Kansas
The Role of Social Support in Promoting Access to College for Older Youth in Foster Care
Nathanael Okpych, MSW, University of Chicago; Mark E. Courtney, PhD, University of Chicago
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