Abstract: Influence of Extended Foster Care on Early Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Influence of Extended Foster Care on Early Outcomes

Saturday, January 13, 2018: 5:06 PM
Marquis BR Salon 8 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Justin Harty, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Sunggeun Park, MS, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Foster care youth have been found to fare worse than same-age peers without foster care involvement on many adult outcomes (Courtney, 2009). Findings from a recent study of foster youth in the Midwest found positive associations between extended foster care and adult outcomes (Courtney & Hook, 2017). However, as an increasing number of states consider or begin implementing extended care, it is important to continue to evaluate its potential impact on foster youth outcomes. This study examines the relationship between the number of months youth remained in care past their 18th birthday and several outcomes in early adulthood for young people in California foster care.

Methods: The sample for this analysis includes the 611 CalYOUTH respondents who participated in both interview waves and who gave permission to access administrative records. Information on number of months youth spent in care past age 18, and control variables were obtained from state administrative child welfare data.  Data for all other control variables were collected at wave 1 when most participants were 17 years old, and policy- and practice-relevant outcomes were assessed during wave 2 when most participants were 19 years old. College enrollment was assessed about a year later, when most participants were 20 years old, from college enrollment records from the National Student Clearinghouse. Outcomes included education, employment, experience of economic hardships, health and behavioral health, parenting, and criminal justice system involvement. Ordinary least squares regression was used for continuous outcome measures, binary logistic regression for dichotomous outcomes, Poisson regression for count outcomes, and ordinal logistic regression for health status. Controls for baseline risk and protective factors included demographic characteristics, aspects of youths’ foster care histories, academic performance and educational attainment, social support, health, parenting, and criminal justice system involvement.

Results: The number of months youths’ spent in care past their 18th birthday was significantly (p<.05) associated with several outcomes. Extended care significantly increased the estimated likelihood that youth completed a secondary education credential, enrolled in college, and had accumulated financial assets. Conversely, extended care significantly reduced the estimated number of economic hardships youth experienced, and reduced the likelihood of experiencing homelessness, receiving need-based public aid benefits, and being convicted of a crime. Statistically significant associations were not found between time in care past the 18th birthday and employment, income, food insecurity, general health, mental health, substance use disorders, social support, pregnancy, parenting, arrests, and victimization.

Conclusions: The findings provide early evidence that remaining in care is associated with a range of important benefits for youth. Importantly, no evidence was found that remaining in care increased the risk of negative outcomes. While these analyses controlled for a wide range of possible confounders, the potential for omitted variable bias calls for research employing more rigorous methods that can make a stronger case for a causal relationship. Future research call also help identify specific mechanisms through which extended care impacts foster youth as they transition to adulthood and why remaining in care might influence some outcomes and not others.