Abstract: Fostering Educational Success for Foster Care Alumni: Consistency of Needs and Services (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Fostering Educational Success for Foster Care Alumni: Consistency of Needs and Services

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Deaven Rodriguez, LMSW, Program Coordinator, University of Texas at San Antonio, TX
Megan H. Piel, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Catarina Murphy, BA, MSW Student, University of Texas at San Antonio
Background and Purpose: Although many foster youth aspire to go on to postsecondary education, only 33% enroll in a two- or four-year institution, and less than 4% graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by age 25 (Watt et al., 2019). Educational equity and resources for foster youth have gained attention in recent decades, with state and federal policies to support consistency in school placement and opportunities for individualized support; yet implementation of policies has been inconsistent and educational outcomes have not significantly improved over time (Okpych, 2012). Campus-based support programs are increasingly developing across the country, providing important support and resources for foster care alumni, however these efforts are typically isolated within individual institutions and serve relatively small numbers of students (Geiger et al., 2018). This study seeks to build on previous work that calls for more comprehensive efforts to improve educational outcomes for foster care alumni, including consistency in services that meet individualized needs.

Methods: A mixed methods concurrent triangulation design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2017) was used to (a) explore foster care alumni perceptions of needs and goals in higher education, and (b) examine areas of outreach and engagement with foster care alumni in campus-based support programs. Data were collected through intake assessments of 277 foster care alumni engaging with campus-based support programs at both two- and four-year institutions in a large metropolitan area, and more than 4,700 hours of units of service data on outreach and engagement of campus-based support program staff. Quantitative data were triangulated with thematic analysis of open-ended comments to provide greater understanding of the findings.

Results: Participants ranged in age from 18 to 40 years old (M = 24.23), were primarily female (67.51%; n = 187), and Latino/Hispanic (56.68%; n = 157). More than a quarter of alumni (28.89%; n = 80) reported having children or were pregnant, and 11.55% (n = 32) identified as LGBTQIA. At intake, foster care alumni reported perceived challenges in transitions to college, continuity of relationships, time management, and balancing commitments. Other themes included financial stress to support childcare, housing, transportation, and basic needs, as well as challenges with virtual learning. The majority (nearly 73%) of direct services received by foster care alumni were focused on life skills, finances and employment, and supportive relationships, which were consistent with the needs expressed at intake.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study suggest supportive services for foster care alumni engaged with campus-based support programs were congruent with students’ voiced needs. Other areas, such as housing and cultural and personal identity development were experienced by fewer students, however, individual time spent in these areas was often greater, demonstrating the individualized nature of support. Collaborative efforts across communities to develop consistent services and ongoing supportive relationships can help advance racial equity and social justice as education is a means of social mobility and has the opportunity to increase opportunities. Understanding perceived needs and engagement of foster care alumni is important to creating a more equitable and supportive path to educational success.