Abstract: An Often Forgotten Population: Exploring Homelessness Among Foster Care Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

505P An Often Forgotten Population: Exploring Homelessness Among Foster Care Youth

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
G. Lawrence Farmer, PhD, Director of the Doctoral Program and Associate Professor, Fordham University, New York, NY
Janna Heyman, PhD, Professor, Henry C. Ravazzin Center on Aging and Intergenerational Studies, Endowed Chair, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Peggy Kelly, MSW, Research Director, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Background and Purpose: One of the greatest challenges for the nearly 24,000 youth who exit foster care each year is reducing the risk of homelessness (Bender, Yang, Ferguson, & Thompson, 2015; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015;).  Dworsky & Courtney (2009) found that the odds of youth aging out of the foster care system becoming homeless by age 19 were higher for those who: had run away multiple times while in foster care; were placed in a group care setting; had been physically abused before entering care; had engaged in delinquent behaviors; and did not feel close to a biological parent or grandparent.

Methods: Data were collected from 625 youth that were in foster care in a suburban county in New York State over a period of six years.  Data on youth were matched using multiple sources, including Child Care Review System (CCRS), Multistate Foster Care Data Archive (FCDA), and Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), among others. Latent Class Analysis (LCA) was used to empirically identify subgroups (or classes) based on the profile risk factors.  Some of the variables included: entering care before the age of 12, having a runaway history (AWOL), history of homelessness, and juvenile deliquency experience or need for supervision history.  Using Mplus 7.3 LCA addressed the following question:  Are there different groups of youth that have different profiles of  potential risk factors for experiencing homelessness? 

ResultsThree groups of youth were identifed based on  the exploratary LCA analysis results.  The first group contained approximately 14.8% (n=57) of the sample. All of the youth in this group had a juvenile delinquent history and/or had been identified as needing supervision. More than 50% of the youth had a runaway and a history of homelessess. Few students in the group (7%) entered care after the age of 12. The second group contained the largest percentage of youth in the sample, 81.8% (n=539). Having runaway and a history of homelessness dominated the risk factors for this group. Greater than 80% of the group had runaway (88%) and a history of homelessess (86%). A large percentage (40%) of the youth in this group entered care after age 12. The third group contained the smallest percentage of youth, 3.4%.  A history of homelessness was the predominant risk factor associated with this group of youth. Nearly all of the youth (99%) in this group had a history of homelessness. 

Conclusions and ImplicationsThese findings suggest that there are distinct subgroups of youth based on the factors found to be associated with youth having difficulties transitioning from the system into independent living. Child welfare staff and administrators need to focus their efforts on these factors (e.g. numbers of runaway) to potentially reduce the risk of homelessness.