Abstract: Translating a Psychological Self-Sufficiency Program to Foster Youth: Adult-Youth Relationships As Process and Outcome (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Translating a Psychological Self-Sufficiency Program to Foster Youth: Adult-Youth Relationships As Process and Outcome

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Bridget Colacchio Wesley, MA, Doctoral candidate, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL
Julia Pryce, PhD, Associate Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, Chicago, IL
Bridget Grady Couture, PhD, Program Director, First Star Academy at Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University, Chicago
Philip Hong, PhD, Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, IL
Background: There are over 428,000 children in the U.S. child welfare system. Current and former foster youth demonstrate difficulty in various domains of well-being, from academics to mental health. Mentoring and other adult-youth relationships are central for success in programs for youth in care. The Transforming Impossible into Possible (TIP) program is an evidence-based opportunity for improving youth well-being. Validated with low-income job seekers, the TIP training program helps participants achieve psychological self-sufficiency (PSS) by identifying barriers, engaging healing, gaining skills, and turning hope into meaningful steps toward goals. As a team, adult program staff and foster youth lead this Participatory Action Research (PAR) to revise the TIP model to address the specific needs and strengths of youth in care.

Methods: Following PAR practices, youth co-researchers (YCRs) worked with mentors on all elements of the project, from creating interview protocol to data analysis. The team conducted in-depth, semi-structured focus groups with 12 adolescents in care in a large Midwestern city. Participants were 14-21 years old and represented a range of ethnic backgrounds. Memos and transcripts from focus groups and YCR research meetings were included in data analysis. Focus groups centered on responding to the content and format of the TIP training, including suggestions for modifications applicable to youth in care. For analysis, the team collaborated to develop a code book and used NVivo12 to code for themes within and across focus groups.

Results: Using an iterative, interpretivist approach to analysis, several central themes emerged. The YCRs and focus group participants found the content themes of TIP (e.g., forgiveness, goals, barriers) relevant to their lives. Points of departure in applying TIP content to those in care focused on relationships with supportive adults, peers and self, and the process through interdependence is achieved by adolescents in care. Participants identified their need to (re)build trust with caregivers and mentors as part of any program aimed at developing future well-being. They emphasized their desire to connect with peers, and the need to build a self-image of worth and self-compassion to overcome barriers and achieve goals. Reflecting the bottom-up principles undergirding TIP, youth encouraged a shift in delivery design away from individual written lessons and surveys and toward a relational model built on trust and community. Completing the PAR process, the team crafted a new outline for TIP content and delivery responding to the needs and strengths of youth in care.

Conclusion and Implications: These findings inform the future application of TIP for youth in care, and for other youth who have experienced trauma. Findings reinforce the importance of adult-youth relationships as a primary mediator to developing PSS. These relationships can be particularly powerful when characterized by steadfast benevolence, a framework identified by youth in care as critical to impactful relationships. Empowering these young people to develop PSS through a relational model could help create a bottom-up system change in child welfare. Future implementation research should test the efficacy of this modified version of TIP with youth in care.