Abstract: What Is Known about the Relationships That Aging out Foster Youth Have with Their Birth Parents? Past Research and Future Directions (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

72P What Is Known about the Relationships That Aging out Foster Youth Have with Their Birth Parents? Past Research and Future Directions

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Judith Havlicek, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Colleen Cary Katz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
BackgroundViews about birth parents in relation to aging out foster youth are shifting. In part, one consistent study finding has to do with the considerable contact that youth have with their birth families after leaving foster care (Barth, 1990; Courtney, et al., 2001; Courtney, et al., 2005;). Many in the field have subsequently asked whether quick timelines to terminate parental rights under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, particularly for adolescents, have led the field to overlook the importance of parenting relationships even when parents cannot be legal caregivers (Gibbs et al., 2004; Humphrey et al., 2006; Lowry, 2003). The growing body of research in the area of aging out further highlights a need to develop more nuanced understanding. In one study, former foster youth who were parenting identified biological mothers as the most common source of information about parenting and as someone who taught them how to be a good parent – despite having been placed in foster care (Courtney, et al., 2011). These realities make it critical to better understand these relationships and challenges. In this study, we take stock of what is known about aging out foster youths’ relationships with their birth parents.  


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 To identify unpublished studies, we conducted a search in Google Scholar and reviewed reference lists of the published unpublished studies.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.