Abstract: Experiences of Youth in Foster Care & Aged-out of Foster Care during COVID19 (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

73P Experiences of Youth in Foster Care & Aged-out of Foster Care during COVID19

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Johanna Greeson, PhD, MSS, MLSP, Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
John Gyourko, BS, MSW Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Sara Jaffee, PhD, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Sarah Wasch, MSW, Program Manager, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background: This study examined the experiences of 18-23-year-olds in foster care/aged out of foster care during the COVID19 crisis in April 2020. Youth aging out of foster care experience countless hardships when they transition to adulthood. Anecdotally, these young people are among those bearing the heaviest burden related to the COVID19 crisis. Our goal was to gain a clearer picture of these burdens by deploying an online survey. We examined participants’ housing, food security, education, employment, finances, health/mental health, and personal connections.

Method: We developed our survey using a poll conducted by FosterClub in March 2020 that asked club members about their experiences during COVID19 during a two-day window and the outcomes portion of the National Youth in Transition Database survey as guides. Data were collected using non-probability sampling and a cross-sectional survey design. We recruited participants nationally asking professional connections across our networks to disseminate our survey link to eligible young people and service providers. We also recruited using social media posts and paid ads. Data were collected, managed, and analyzed using descriptive statistics in Qualtrics. Our final sample (N=281) came from 32 states (+Washington DC) and 191 cities. Participants were almost evenly still in care (47%) and aged out of care (53%). Their mean age was 19.9 (SD=1.8) years. On average they had spent 5.8 years in foster care (SD=4.2). Seventy-four percent were cisgender female, 50% were White, 25% were Hispanic/Latinx/Spanish, and 63% had completed only high school.

Results: Ten percent were forced to leave their current living situation, 12% feared they would be forced to leave, and 7% were in crisis with their living situation. Housing arrangements included 34% still residing in their own place, 15% living with a parent, relative, or other non-placement adult, 11% living in a foster home, and 8% couch-surfing or homeless. Thirty-six percent reported access to only “some” food, 16% reported “very low” access to food, and 2% reported having "no access" to food. Thirty-one percent reported losing all academic or post-secondary supports. Twenty-six percent reported being laid off and 11% reported no longer having reliable gig work. During COVID19, 32% started receiving public assistance. Almost half reported trouble accessing needed health/mental health care or medication and almost half reported clinically-significant levels of depression or anxiety. Regarding personal connections, 56% had at least one adult in their lives whom they can go to for advice/support during the pandemic, and 33% wished they had connections with more people to help them. Fifty-nine percent had reliable access to a computer.

Implications: Findings suggest that young people in foster care/aged out of care are experiencing substantial challenges during COVID19, related to aspects of their safety and wellbeing. Findings related to food insecurity, public assistance, and mental health are especially concerning. This study is the first to take stock of the burden that this already highly marginalized population is bearing in light of COVID19. Implications for how to better serve older youth in foster care during widespread public health crises will be discussed.