Methods: Following rigorous and recommended methods (Arskey & O’Malley, 2005; Levac et al., 2010; Colquhoun et al., 2014) we systematically searched, selected and synthesized 20 years of peer-reviewed literature focused on 13-19 year olds in foster care. We searched four library databases using specified key search terms to gather empirical studies focused on at least two psychosocial variables, initially identifying 1,155 articles. After removing duplicates, screening titles and abstracts, and reviewing 207 full-text articles, 41 peer-reviewed, quantitative studies were included in this review. We charted the data to capture details within and across studies, and synthesized our findings in consultation with an advisory group of researchers, practitioners, and youth with lived experience.
Results: Included studies encompassed cross-sectional (n=29) and longitudinal designs (n=12) with some studies including comparison groups and/or subgroup analysis. Sample sizes ranged from small (n=37) to large, population-based studies (n=32,479). Overall, the review highlighted categories of interpersonal relationships that can have protective value, specifically meaningful connections with parents and kin, foster caregivers, service providers, caring adults in the community, and peers and siblings. With regards to modifiable individual protective factors, one overarching category (individual strengths and resilience) embodies three subcategories of protective factors associated with well-being among youth in foster care: 1) psychosocial needs (e.g., safety and belonging), 2) developmental skills (e.g., social skills), and 3) capacity in context (e.g., coping).
Discussion and Implications: The results of this review contribute new insights for research, practice, and policy intended to enhance psychosocial well-being for young people in foster care. First, there is a clear need to nurture caring relationships for adolescent youth in foster care to improve their psychosocial well-being. This review synthesizes what is currently known about the importance of specific kinds of supportive relationships as a critical risk-buffering protective factor. Next, our findings also articulate the role of modifiable individual factors (i.e., youth needs, skills, and capacities) that are associated with psychosocial well-being in this population. Importantly, findings also highlight specific individual factors that interventionists might consider as potential targeted mechanisms of change when developing programming for this population.