Abstract: Connected after Care: The Roles of Child Welfare Policy and Programs in Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth Formerly in Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Connected after Care: The Roles of Child Welfare Policy and Programs in Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth Formerly in Foster Care

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Geiger, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Background and Purpose:

Youth with foster care histories experience a number of challenges as they transition into adulthood, particularly with education and employment. It is estimated that 3-5% of youth formerly in foster care complete a bachelor’s degree and less than half are employed by the age of 25/26 (Okpych & Courtney, 2014). Several policies and programs have been implemented to promote connectedness to education and employment for youth in care (e.g., extended foster care [EFC], tuition waivers, independent living services [ILS]), however, little is known about their impact. This study investigates the role of state-level policies, youth receipt of services, and disparities in youth connections to education and employment.


We analyzed data collected from the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), a nationally-representative longitudinal study of youth in foster care. The sample included youth who completed the baseline survey in 2013 (age 17) and the follow-up survey in 2017 (age 21) (n=7,813). The four-category outcome captured youths’ connectedness at age 21: enrolled in school, employed, both, or neither. Predictors included state-level measures (e.g., implemented EFC policy, expenditures on ILS, availability of a tuition waiver program for foster youth) and youth-level measures (e.g., receipt of employment ILS, years spent in EFC). We controlled for a wide range of state-level (e.g., youth unemployment) and youth-level factors (e.g., foster care history, parental status). Hierarchical multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted, with youth nested within states.


Statistically significant (p<.05) regression results are presented as relative risk ratios (RRR), with “neither employed nor enrolled” designated as the outcome reference group. At the youth level, receipt of the following were found to promote connectedness: receipt of postsecondary ILS increased the likelihood of being employed (RRR=1.46) and enrolled/employed (RRR=1.85), and youth who received educational funding had higher odds of being enrolled (RRR=1.56) and enrolled/employed (RRR=2.25). Each additional year spent in EFC increased the likelihood of being employed (RRR=1.51), enrolled (RRR=1.76), and employed/enrolled (RRR=1.89). At the state level, states with tuition waivers for foster youth increased the likelihood of enrollment (RRR=1.48), and states with more unspent ILS funding decreased youths’ odds of being enrolled/employed (RRR=0.87 for each 10 percentage-point increase in unspent funds). Females were less likely than males to be employed only (RRR=0.79) but more likely to be employed/enrolled (RRR=1.27). Compared to white youth, youth identifying as black (RRR=1.29) or “other race” (RRR=1.49) had higher odds of being enrolled/employed. Youth with certain disabilities had lower odds of being connected to school and school/work.

Conclusions and Implications:

Findings suggest that several individual-level and state-level programs and policies can increase the likelihood of youth formerly in foster care being employed and enrolled in postsecondary education. It is promising that some services seem to be having positive impact on education and employment. Youth in states that invest in services and financial support are more likely to be employed and enroll in postsecondary education. The disparities noted indicate that youth may need additional supports in programming and policies. Implications for youth, youth-serving organizations, and policymakers will be discussed.