Methods. Searches were completed in seven databases. Key search terms focused on “aging out foster youth” and variations, and the scope of interest was in “birth parents” or “biological families.” We added a search term to “relationships” to identify studies that asked youth potential questions about their parents. To identify unpublished studies, we conducted a search in Google Scholar and reviewed reference lists of the published unpublished studies. Our study time frame ranged from 1980 to 2018.
Findings. There have been eight studies that have asked about relationships with birth parents. Sample sizes range from a low of 66 (Zimmerman, 1982) to a high of 732 (Courtney et al., 2004). Five studies interviewed former foster youth at one point in time (Festinger, 1983; Joes & Moses, 1984; Cook, 1991; Reilly, 2003; Zimmerman, 1982) whereas three studies followed foster youth over time (Courtney et al., 2001; Courtney et al., 2004; Courtney et al., 2014). Only two studies out of eight asked whether their parental rights have been terminated. Five studies ask young people about whether their birth parent is alive. After emancipation from care, studies ask about parental relationships in three ways: 1) living arrangements, 2) frequency of contact, and 3) closeness to family. Four studies ask about contact with a birth parent after exiting foster care (Courtney et al., 2007; 2010; 2011; Festinger, 1983; Jones & Moses, 1984; Zimmerman, 1982).
Conclusion & Implications. The findings from this study suggest that between 46 to 56% of foster youth reported being close with their birth mother and 25 to 32% reported being close to their birth father. Fewer reported living with any birth parent after leaving care (4 to 18%). This suggests benefits may come more from emotional than concrete support. We map unexplored questions to explore in future research using existing data sources.