Abstract: An Ecological Exploration of How Black Youth in Foster Care Engage in Healthy Intimate Relationships (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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An Ecological Exploration of How Black Youth in Foster Care Engage in Healthy Intimate Relationships

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Roni Diamant-Wilson, PhD, Research Affiliate, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Joellé Williams, BA, MPH Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Adolescents and young adults make important sexual health decisions that are deeply rooted in the social, cultural and structural fabric of their lives. While the sexual health risks among young people of color in foster care have been well-documented, healthy sexual development in this population has been less examined. The purpose of this study was to examine the complex contextual conditions Black youth in foster care experience in their efforts to make positive sexual health decisions and engage in healthy intimate relationships.

Methods: Through an ecological lens, 18 sexually active Black participants (18-22 years old) in foster care were interviewed about their safer sex practices and intimate partnerships. Part of a larger experimental research project investigating interventions that supported foster youth as they transitioned from care, participants were eligible for the study if they were: 1) African American or Black; 2) 18 years or older; 3) reported using condoms during their last sexual contact; 4) reported ever receiving sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV testing. Grounded theory methods were used to: 1) construct a conceptual framework illustrating protective factors and obstacles that influenced the youths’ sexual decision-making efforts and 2) describe how different conditions influenced the participants’ efforts to form healthy, intimate relationships. To triangulate the study’s findings, study participants were invited to participate in a member check focus group.

Results: Data analyses indicated Black youth transitioning from foster care experience individual, relationship, community, and societal level factors that promote and hinder their sexual decision-making efforts and ability to engage in positive intimate partnerships. Four types of intimate relationships emerged from the analyses depending on their safer sex practices and partnership stability. Participants who reported being with a current or recent partner for at least six months were either in Extended Safety Relationships (24%) where they abstained from having sex or used condoms all of the time or in Modified Safety Relationships (35%) in which they employed safer sex strategies. In contrast, participants in Tenuous Safety Relationships (18%) reportedly engaged in unprotected sex outside of their relationships and those in Lone Safety Relationships (23%) said they had never been in a stable relationship or felt emotionally close with a partner.

Conclusions and Implications: Black youth transitioning from foster care may have a similar trajectory in forming healthy intimate relationships as their non-foster care peers. Further inquiry is needed to investigate the multiple ecological level factors that influence their safer sex efforts and ensuing intimate relationships.