Abstract: American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Aging out of Foster Care: A Life Course Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Aging out of Foster Care: A Life Course Analysis

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Capitol, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Angela Pharris, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Claudette L. Grinnell-Davis, PhD, MSW, MS, MTS, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa Campus, Tulsa, OK
Lily E. DeFrank, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa, OK
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children represent 1% of all children in the United States, but  make up 2% of children placed in out-of-home care and 3% of youth aging out of care.  Despite this  level of disproportionality, a scoping review of Indigenous child welfare literature  found only two empirical studies on AI/AN foster youth: one on  mental health  and one on education. No empirical study has reported on outcomes for AI/AN aged-out youth generally. Prior research indicates that once child welfare system risk is taken into account, racial disproportionality disappears. However, this has never been explored with AI/AN youth.  

AI/AN youth have specific risks stemming from historical trauma, including forced physical relocation, acculturation, and elimination of tribal culture.  These contribute to challenges seen in AI/AN youth independent of foster youth status. Using a life-course analysis model of cumulative risk, this project fills a gap in the current literature by analyzing AI/AN youth outcomes using a national dataset on aging-out youth.

It is hypothesized that AI/AN youth who age out of foster care have poorer outcomes at age 19 than other youth, even after accounting for other risk factors.


This analysis utilized data merged from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) and two waves (age 17 and 19) of the National Youth in Transition Database. 6,644 subjects  were studied at age 19. 210 are identified as AI/AN.

Dependent variables included incarceration, having children, homelessness, current educational enrollment, having a diploma /GED, and attainment of part-time employment. Independent variables were introduced using a stepwise logistic regression design based on life course characteristics. Block 1 contained demographics including race, sex, and rurality. Block 2 included foster care characteristics including reason for removal, lifetime total number of removals, and placement count from the most recent removal. Block 3 included lifetime history of risk and protective factors before age 17, and Block 4 used the same variables in Block 3, but between the ages of 17-19.


Using only demographics variables, AI/AN children were different only for incarceration (OR: 1.674) and homelessness (OR: 1.632). However, the significance of being AI/AN remained through all four blocks only for incarceration (OR: 1.754, full model). For homelessness, AI/AN status was marginally significant when Block 3 was introduced (OR: 1.454) and not significant in the full model. Significant Block 3 variables included homelessness (OR: 2.33) and incarceration (OR: 1.564); significant Block 4 variables included remaining in foster care (OR: .402), connection to an adult (OR: .456), working (OR: .824), having a child (OR: 1.269), and recent incarceration (OR: 1.882).


Results indicate AI/AN youth may have specific challenges during the transition to adulthood, and that transition planning for AI/AN youth should include connection to culture and tribal community. Findings reflect the ongoing legacy of isolation caused by historical trauma as well as institutional racism experienced by AI/AN youth and families in the child welfare system.