Abstract: Strengthening Resilience for Youth in Foster Care with Positive Youth Development Programming (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Strengthening Resilience for Youth in Foster Care with Positive Youth Development Programming

Thursday, January 17, 2019: 3:15 PM
Union Square 16 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Jeffrey Waid, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Armeda Wojciak, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Background: Positive youth development programs are an approach to prevention and intervention guided by life course theory and developmental intervention science (Kurtines, et. al., 2008; Montgomery, et. al., 2008). Through the creation of enabling environments, positive youth development programs seek to build upon strengths, foster healthy relationships, and promote youth sense of belonging and contribution (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 2004). Such programs may have an outsized potential for youth in foster care, who in addition to maltreatment exposure face foster care specific risks including familial separation, relational discontinuity, and impermanence.

This observational study investigated a brief, camp-based reunification program for sibling groups separated by foster care. During camp youth engaged in a series of signature events designed to increase capacity for adaptation to foster care and strengthen sibling bonds. This investigation sought to determine if youth characteristics, program experiences, and camp location influenced youth resilience.

Methods: Five-hundred eighty-one youth from 11 camp locations in two countries completed brief measures designed to assess the impact of program participation on individual resilience. Resilience was measured prior to and following camp programming using an 11-item indicator (pre-alpha=.85, post-alpha=.85) informed by Liebenberg, Ungar, & LeBlanc (2013). Youth age, race (white/non-white), gender (male/female), frequency of sibling contact (less than one per month/more than once per month), and the number of prior camp exposures were assessed at pre-test. An 8-item measure designed to assess youth’s experiences in the program (alpha=.82) and discussions with siblings regarding family history (alpha=.78) were assessed at the end of camp. Heirarchical linear models were estimated using Maximum Likelihood estimation procedures.

Results: Youth reported lower youth levels of resilience prior to camp programming (M=3.4, SD=.52) than at completion of camp (M=3.87, SD=.49). A paired samples t-test suggests changes in ratings of resilience were statistically significant (M=.-47, SD=.55, t(338)=-16.01, CI =-.53--.41) and a calculation of the effect size (d=.87) suggests the grand mean change in resilience was large. The intercept only model for youth resilience was statistically significant (Yoo=.47, SE=.03, p<.01, CI=.41-.53), and female gender was associated with a small increase in youth reported resilience (Y02.13, SE=.05, p<.05, CI=.03-.24). Positive camp experiences were associated with modest increases in resilience (Y02=.44, SE=.06, p<.01, CI=.33-.55). Interestingly, prior camp exposures were associated with a small, trend level decrease in resilience (Y02=04, SE=.02, p=.06, CI=-.07-.002). Approximately 2% of the variance in resilience (p=.02, SE=.03) could be attributed to the camp location the youth attended.

Discussion: Results suggest that positive youth development programs may be a viable approach to prevention and intervention with youth in foster care. This particular program appears to strengthen youth resilience through the enabling environment of camp-based sibling reunification and signature event programming. Effects were particularly notable for girls and youth who made connections with their siblings and other youth in care. Additional research is needed to uncover how, for whom, and under what conditions do positive youth development programs benefit youth in foster care.