Abstract: The Relationship between Food Insecurity, Social Capital, and Health Among Foster Youth in Higher Education (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

426P The Relationship between Food Insecurity, Social Capital, and Health Among Foster Youth in Higher Education

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sean Hogan, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Fullerton, CA
Background and Purpose: The health and welfare of foster youth transitioning to adulthood through higher education is a concern for child welfare and student support service providers.  This study explored the relationship between food insecurity, social capital, and physical and mental health of former and current foster youth during their first-year experience at a 4-year university. It was the hypothesis of this study that foster youth students who experienced food insecurity would also experience compromised physical and mental health; the role of social capital in mitigating the relationship between food insecurity and health problems was also explored.

Methods: This study was a longitudinal study of 114 former and current foster youth attending four-year universities; 25 students were junior college transfers. Study participants were recruited with the assistance of child welfare and campus support programs in southern California. Utilizing the Current Population Survey food security survey, the mental health and current physical health inventories of the Medical Outcomes Study, and an original 13-item social capital scale (Cronbach’s alpha = .892), the physical and emotional well-being of food insecure foster youth college students was compared to their food secure counterparts. Independent t tests and multiple linear regressions were used to examine relationships among variables.

Results: In this study, 23.6% (n = 30) of study participants were food insecure. Food insecure foster youth college students had significantly lower social capital than food secure students. Food insecure foster youth college students also scored significantly lower on physical and mental health measures than food secure students. Multiple linear regression indicated food insecurity was a significant predictor of physical health; however, social capital, gender, and being a junior college transfer were not significant predictors. For mental health, food security, social capital, and being male were significant predictors of better mental health among foster youth college students.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provided empirical evidence demonstrating the food and health challenges of former and current foster youth attempting to successfully transition to adulthood through higher education. A significant proportion of youth who enter higher education suffer food insecurity and increased physical and mental health problems during their first-year experience on a 4-year campus. Social capital appears to be protective for the mental health of food insecure foster youth college students. Campus administrators and student support service providers need to be conscious of the food and health needs of students, particularly those coming from vulnerable and disadvantaged circumstances.