Abstract: Romantic Relationships and Parenting of Older Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

Romantic Relationships and Parenting of Older Foster Youth

Friday, January 13, 2017: 5:55 PM
La Galeries 4 (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Justin Harty, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Huiling Feng, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: As young people transition to adulthood, romantic relationships and parenting become salient issues. There has been some research regarding the quality and characteristics of romantic relationships among 21 year-olds who have been in foster care (Courtney et al., 2007), but we know very little about the quality of these relationships among younger foster youth. In terms of parenthood, transition-age foster youth are more likely than their non-foster care counterparts to parent a child (for review, see Svoboda et al., 2012), but research exploring the level of involvement foster youth have with their children is sparse. In order for states to anticipate need and provide appropriate services to older foster youth, further exploration of romantic relationships and parenting involvement is needed. The present analysis draws on a representative sample of older foster youth in California, describing dimensions of their romantic relationships and parental involvement.

Methods: This study draws from self-report data from Wave 2 interviews with 19 and 20-year-old CalYOUTH Study participants (n = 611). Data were collected on the youths’ romantic relationships (e.g., status, duration, level of commitment,   satisfaction, and coercion) and parental status (e.g., number of children, residence of child, frequency of contact, relationship with other parent). Missing data was minimal (less than 2% for any item). Sample weights were used to adjust for features of the study design and t-tests were used to examine differences by race, gender, and care status (i.e., in foster care vs. not in foster care at the time of the interview).  

Results: About half of youth reported being currently involved in a “dating or romantic relationship,” and almost 90 percent of these respondents reported being involved with their partner on a steady basis. Differences in romantic involvement were found by gender and race/ethnicity. For example, females were more likely than males to report being currently involved in a romantic relationship. Over 40 percent of youth in romantic relationships were living with their partner. Although less than one percent of youth reported ever being married, approximately half of youth in a romantic relationship reported ever living with someone in a “marriage-like” relationship. Among these youth, about two-thirds reported currently living with their partner. About one-fifth of the study participants had one or more living children, and 80% of parents lived with all of their children. Female parents were more than twice as likely as male parents to be living with all of their children (88% vs. 43%).

Conclusions: As foster youth transition to adulthood, more than half are in romantic relationships. Providing services that promote healthy relationships may be an important task of child welfare departments that serve foster youth. Consistent with previous research, roughly one-in-five youth were parents at a relatively young age, and most fathers did not live with their children. Extended foster care could provide important supports to parents to help them continue to achieve their education and employment goals promoting involvement with their children.