Session: Former Foster Youth: Transitions to Health and Home (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

52 Former Foster Youth: Transitions to Health and Home

Friday, January 15, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Ballroom Level-Congressional Hall B (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Leah M. Gjertson, MSW, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Clark M. Peters, PhD, JD, MSW, University of Missouri-Columbia
Youth aging out of foster care and those with foster care histories are exceptionally vulnerable. There is overwhelming evidence that they struggle on practically every measure of healthy transition to adulthood (Arnett, 2007; Collins, 2001; Courtney and Heuring, 2005; Courtney, Dworsky, and Lee, 2009; Dworsky, 2005; Goerge, Bilaver, Lee, Needell, Brookhart, and Jackman, 2002; Pecora, White, Jackson, and Wiggins, 2009). This research symposium explores the transition to adulthood for former foster youth and youth aging out of foster care; to understand the challenges they face across multiple domains and explore avenues for intervention and additional research.  Specifically, this symposium examines how these young adults manage mental health conditions, secure and maintain housing, and safely raise their own children.

The first paper utilizes a mixed-methods sequential exploratory design to examine the challenges and supports youth aging out encounter in meeting their mental health needs. Young adults reported feeling overwhelmed and unable to ask for help when needed. They also emphasized the importance of responsive engagement, self-efficacy, and consistency in relationships with friends, mentors, and agencies.  Results highlight the need for individualized transition planning that is collaborative for youth involved as they navigate the child welfare and mental health systems. 

The second paper seeks to build on previous cross-sectional and longitudinal studies examining the risk of homelessness among aging-out foster youth by making use of newly available data from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD). The study reports that almost one-fifth of youth experienced homelessness within the past two years. Multivariate results indicate that a history of behavioral problems, economic assistance, and being a parent increase the risk of homelessness. The findings suggest that risk of homelessness could be decreased through both behavioral and economic interventions.

The third paper investigates one component of the intergenerational transmission child maltreatment relationship with an analysis of the association between economic hardship and neglectful and abusive parenting among young adults with histories of foster care and childhood maltreatment. Using Add Health data, the study finds relatively high rates of economic hardship and self-reported abusive and neglectful parenting. There are marginal differences in rates of parental maltreatment between foster and maltreated youth. Results show economic hardship is associated with an increase in the likelihood of social services involvement but not abusive and neglectful parenting among these young adult parents.

The in-depth analyses and new findings presented in this symposium illustrate the challenges faced by foster youth as they transition to independence and take on adult responsibilities. The research provides practice and policy relevant insights for social work as it continues efforts to support these vulnerable youth as they transition to healthy adulthood and establish households and families. Comments by a discussant with practice, policy, and research experience in this area will contribute additional insights and implications of the research findings across papers, and prepare the audience for a robust discussion.

* noted as presenting author
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