Abstract: Predictors of Homelessness for Older Foster Youth at Age 19 (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Predictors of Homelessness for Older Foster Youth at Age 19

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 5:30 PM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Huiling Feng, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Justin Harty, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Mark Courtney, PhD, Samuel Deutsch Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Experiencing homelessness is a challenge faced by substantial proportions of foster youth transitioning to adulthood. Estimated rates of homelessness among youth aging out of foster care range from 11% to 46% (Dworsky, Napolitano, & Courtney, 2013). Studies have found that running away while in foster care (Dworsky & Courtney, 2009), greater placement instability (Shpiegel, 2016), placement in congregate care settings (Dworsky & Courtney, 2009), and experiencing a history of maltreatment (Fowler et al., 2009) are factors that increase the expected risk of homelessness. The current analysis adds to extant studies to examine prevalence and predictors of homelessness among transition-aged foster youth at age 19. Information on risk and protective factors associated with homelessness is needed to inform states’ efforts to provide economic stability and housing services to youth transitioning out of foster care.

Methods: This analysis includes 599 CalYOUTH respondents who participated in wave 1 and 2 interviews and who granted permission to access their child welfare administrative records. Predictors were measured at wave 1 (age 17), and homelessness was assessed at wave 2 (age 19). The outcome measure was a three-category variable including ever homeless since wave 1, ever couch-surfed since wave 1, and neither homeless nor couch-surfed since wave 1 (reference group). Multinomial logistic regression explored predictors of homelessness, including: demographic characteristics; history of maltreatment; foster care history characteristics; history of special education; mental health and substance use disorders; perceived self-reliance; perceived social support; criminal justice system involvement; and months in foster care between age 18 and the wave 2 interview. Multiple imputation was used to address missing data.

Results: At age 19, almost a fifth of youth reported having been homeless and over a quarter had couch surfed since their wave 1 interview. Several predictors were significantly (p<.05) associated with homelessness and couch surfing. Youth who changed placements more frequently while in foster care had greater odds of couch surfing (OR=1.2) and homelessness (OR=1.2). More instances of physical abuse or neglect prior to entering care increased the expected odds of couch surfing (OR=1.1) and homelessness (OR=1.1). Each additional month youth remained in care past their 18th birthday decreased the odds of couch surfing (OR=0.9) and homelessness (OR=0.9) Finally, youth who had ever run away from a placement (OR=5.0) before age 18 and youth who had been in a special education classroom (OR=1.7) were at increased risk of experiencing homelessness .

Conclusions and Implications: Consistent with past studies, a troubling proportion of foster youth experience homeless during the transition to adulthood. The analyses suggest that youth who have frequent placement changes, experience more types of maltreatment, run away from care, or receive special education services are at increased risk of homelessness and/or couch surfing. Staying in care after 18 was found to protect foster youth against the risk of experiencing homelessness. These findings suggest that youth with challenging life experiences may need additional support to prevent them from living on the streets or in unstable living conditions.