Abstract: Strengthening Social Networks of Youth Aging out of Foster Care: Positive Adult Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

187P Strengthening Social Networks of Youth Aging out of Foster Care: Positive Adult Outcomes

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Rosenberg, PhD, Research Scientist, Child Trends, Bethesda, MD
Background: Young people often rely on their social support network for financial and emotional support as they transition to adulthood. For youth with foster care experience these supportive adults may not be available to provide the same level of support as their peers in the general population receive. Transition age foster youth experience an increased risk for several adverse adult outcomes including homelessness, low educational attainment, unemployment, and young parenthood. However, these outcomes are not reported by all young people with foster care experience. Youth who report increased social capital experience better adult outcomes than youth with lower levels of social capital. Additionally, social support has been shown to mediate and moderate the negative effects of child maltreatment. The current study aimed to gain a better understanding of how social networks influence the social support and social capital available as youth transition out of the foster care system.

Method: An egocentric social network approach was utilized to attain data from 58 youth in one southeastern state. All youth were between the ages of 18 and 25 and had aged out of the foster care system. The assessment tool included information on social network characteristics, type of social support (instrumental, informational, appraisal, emotional), domain of social support (housing, education, employment, housing, and relationships), and access to (professional prestige) and mobilization (frequency of contact) of social capital. Descriptive statistics, univariate statistics, regression models, and multi-level regression were used to analyze the data.

Results: Average network size of sample participants was 7.1 people and ranged from 0-36. Most youth reported relying on formal supports (social workers, case managers) even once they left the foster care system. Overall, youth reported being very satisfied with their overall network, and less satisfied with the support in individual support domains (e.g. housing). Most youth reported having people in their network and were close or very close to 91.2% of all network members. While most youth reported being satisfied with their networks several youth reported missing support in one or more domains and/or types of support. The most commonly reported support gaps were emotional support and resources. Formal network members were found to have higher levels of occupational prestige than informal (t=-7.72, p<0.001) and biological family network members (t=-4.47, p<0.001). Youth with more placements (t=-2.91, p<0.01) had less frequent contact with network members than youth with fewer placements. Formal network members had more frequent contact with youth than informal (t=-6.92, p<0.001), biological family (t=-4.56, p<0.001), and foster family network members (t=-2.99, p<0.01).

Implications: Social support has been shown to mitigate risks associated with aging out of the foster care system. The current study provides an in-depth understanding of who youth rely on for support, what types of support are available, and how social network characteristics may influence support and social capital. Understanding whom youth rely of for support in early adulthood can provide important practice and policy implications. Research, practice, and policy implications will be discussed.