Abstract: Are Youth Connected?: Engagement in Education and Employment Among Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

Are Youth Connected?: Engagement in Education and Employment Among Foster Youth

Friday, January 13, 2017: 5:35 PM
La Galeries 4 (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Brittani Kindle, BA, Research Assistant, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Enactment of the Fostering Connections law in 2010 reflects the recognition that, like all young people, foster care youth benefit from support beyond age 18.  Given that foster youth generally lag behind their peers in education and employment (e.g., Pecora, 2012) and that these forms of human capital are important for long term economic well-being (e.g., Okpych & Courtney, 2014; Salazar, 2013), two focal points of Fostering Connections are educational attainment and achieving gainful employment.  Although nearly half of the states have passed extended care laws since 2010, we know little about the circumstances and outcomes of youth in the post-Fostering Connections era.  The current analysis describes the connectedness of foster youth to education and employment, as well as the barriers they face to being connected.  Further, we describe differences in connectedness between youth still in care at the time of the interview and youth who exited care.

Methods: Descriptive statistics were calculated using data from the second wave of the CalYOUTH Study (n = 611).  Survey weights were applied to account for the sampling design and non-response.  Chi-square and t-tests were used to examine differences by care status.  

Results: Nearly three-quarters (70.1%) of respondents were enrolled in school and/or working at age 19.  Among those enrolled (53.6%), most were full-time students (60.3%) and most were enrolled in college (59.1%).  Among the one-third of youth who were employed, over half worked part-time (54.3%) and the average hourly wage was $10.21.  Over 90 percent of those not enrolled gave “some” or “a lot” of thought to returning to school, and nearly 90 percent of unemployed youth wanted a job.  About one-third (30.3%) of youth reported facing at least one barrier to returning to school, with needing to work full-time, affordability, and lack of transportation being the most commonly cited barriers.  Difficulty finding work, personal preference, and wanting to focus on school were the main reasons part-time workers were not employed full-time.  Out-of-care youth were more than twice as likely as in-care youth to be disconnected from school and work (50.4% vs. 21.4%, p<.001).  Most differences by care status emerged in education.  Out-of-care youth were more likely than in-care youth to have not yet earned a high school credential, to report receiving insufficient college preparation, and (among current students) to be enrolled in GED/continuation school (all p<.05).  Youth who left care were also more likely than in-care youth to report affordability and lack of transportation as barriers to returning to school.

Conclusions: These descriptive analyses point to differences in connectedness by care status, particularly in terms of education.  Although there were no significant differences in educational aspirations and expectations, youth who left care generally fared worse than youth still in care in terms of attainment and enrollment. While more rigorous research is needed to determine whether these differences can be attributed to extended care or something else (e.g., youth characteristics), these preliminary findings highlight diverging educational pathways between youth who remained in care and youth who did not.