Abstract: Well-Being Among a Sample of Young Adults Adopted from Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Well-Being Among a Sample of Young Adults Adopted from Foster Care

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Sharon Vandivere, MPP, Senior Research Scientist, Child Trends, Bethesda, MD
Karin E. Malm, MS, Senior Research Scientist and Senior Program Area Director, Child Welfare, Child Trends
Background and Purpose:

Adoption is intended to lead to better outcomes than are often experienced by young people who age out of foster care. Thus, efforts to achieve adoptions have increased over the last couple decades. A 2011 evaluation demonstrated the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) adoption recruitment program increases adoptions. Since then, the number of WWK recruiters has increased from 122 to 475; the use of WWK’s child-focused strategy has scaled further through Children’s Bureau Diligent Recruitment grants. Yet, little is known about how youth fare following adoption from foster care. To learn more, we surveyed young adults adopted through WWK.


We interviewed 18- to 21-year-olds adopted at 8 or older through WWK in 13 states. We included questions on the survey used in the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth to facilitate comparisons with studies of young people who exited foster care without having achieved permanency. Some questions were also used in the National Survey of Adolescent Health, to support comparison with a general population. Of 824 eligible respondents, 129 participated in in-person interviews between 2014 and 2018. We developed survey weights using WWK administrative data to reduce non-response bias.


All their adoptions were intact, though 6 percent had thought about legally ending the adoption. Overall, 79 percent experienced an adoption-related challenge, such as anger (42%), conflict with siblings in the family (48%), or managing relationships with birth family (58%). Twenty-four percent had run away at least once. Yet, 80 percent were very/extremely close with an adoptive parent. Most said it was very/extremely likely that they would spend holidays with their parents (76%) and that they can turn to them for help (76%).

According to indicators of well-being also available from studies of the general population of young adults, those adopted from WWK were faring similarly on the percentage rating their health status as excellent/very good (75%), having health insurance (83%), ever pregnant (20%), registered to vote (60%), employed (63%), and neither in school nor working (12%). However, diagnosed mental health problems were more substantially more common among the WWK sample than among their peers in the general population (e.g., depression: 50% vs. 15%). The WWK adoptees were also more likely to have received psychological or emotional counseling in the prior year (35% vs 9%).

On indicators that could be compared with studies of youth aging out of care, WWK participants tended to fare similarly or favorably.

Conclusions and Implications:

While the study does not support causal inferences about the impact of WWK on young people’s well-being, it sheds light on how a sample of young people adopted from foster care are faring following the adoption. Challenges were common, but most young people reported faring well. A caveat is that adoption instability and difficulties in young adulthood were likely more common among survey non-respondents. The frequency of challenges speaks to the importance of post-adoption supports, as reflected in comments like: “Be patient; family therapy with the adoptive family before the adoption is helpful.”