Abstract: Emerging into Parenthood While in Foster Care: Determinants of Foster Care Involvement and Parental Involvement By Age 21 (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Emerging into Parenthood While in Foster Care: Determinants of Foster Care Involvement and Parental Involvement By Age 21

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Justin Harty, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Chicago, IL
Huiling Feng, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Sunggeun (Ethan) Park, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Mark Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Parenting foster youth (PFY) are often unprepared for parenthood and, compared to other young parents, their children have higher rates of child welfare involvement (Courtney, Hook, & Lee, 2012; Dworsky, 2015; Eastman, Palmer, & Ahn, 2019). The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 ushered in historic reforms for PFY to ensure they are prepared for parenthood and to prevent their children from entering foster care. However, little empirical research has investigated factors that contribute to the PFY’s involvement with their child and the likelihood of the child being a dependent of the juvenile court. This is one of the first studies to examine predictors of the dependency status of PFY’s children and their level of parental involvement.

Methods: This study uses California administrative child welfare data and data collected from the first and third CalYOUTH interview waves when youths were approximately 17 and 21 years old, respectively. Among the 616 participants who completed both interview waves, 193 youths had at least one living child at age 21. Our analytic sample includes the 261 children of the 193 PFYs. Binary logistic regression was used to assess factors associated with whether a youth’s child was a dependent of the court at Wave 3 (1=yes, 0=no). Linear regression was used to examine factors that contributed to youths’ parental involvement at Wave 3, which was measured as a four-item scale capturing youths’ active parenting behavior (alpha=0.79, e.g., eating evening meals together, showing physical affection). In both analyses we accounted for clustering due to some participants having multiple children. Both analyses examined a wide range of factors such as the PFY’s demographic characteristics, foster care history, and personality traits, as well as the child’s demographics and whether the child lives with their parents.

Results: By age 21, almost 10% of the children of PFYs were dependents of the court. Regression analysis results indicated that children whose PFY is emotionally stable were less likely to be a dependent of the court (OR = .52, p < .001). Months PFY’s spent in extended foster care decreased the expected odds of court dependence (OR = .94, p < .01). The odds of a child being a dependent of the court were higher for African American PFYs (vs. Hispanic PFYs) (OR = 5.5, p < .05). The estimated level of parental involvement was lower for male children and children whose PFY had a runaway history before age 18. Children not living with the PFY were predicted to experience more active parenting behaviors.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest that for PFY, race, emotional instability, and less time in extended foster care increased the likelihood of court dependency for their child. The amount of active parenting the PFY reported engaging in with their child was associated with the child’s gender and residency. Findings suggest that both parental and foster care experiences should be taken into account when tailoring prevention and supportive services for parents in foster care.