Abstract: Psychological Distress Among Care Leavers during the Transition to Adulthood: Risk and Protective Factors throughout Their Life Course (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Psychological Distress Among Care Leavers during the Transition to Adulthood: Risk and Protective Factors throughout Their Life Course

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ahwatukee A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Yafit Sulimani- Aidan, PhD, A professor at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Netta Achdut, PhD, Academic Faculty, Ben-Gurion University, Israel
Anat Zeira, PhD, Professor, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor Emritus, Hebrew university of Jerusalem, Jerualem, Israel
Background: The transition period from care to independent living is a vulnerable time for care leavers who may experience increased mental health problems. Building upon the Conservation of Resources Theory (Hobfoll, 1989) as a theoretical framework, in this study we explored risk and protective factors contributing to and predicting their psychological distress as emerging adults. Specifically, We included factors in each of the four categories of resources throughout care leavers’ life course: 1) objects (family background and demographic characteristics); 2) conditions (in care: support from peers and care staff; a matriculation diploma; post-care: satisfaction with social support networks, completion of mandatory military service; post-secondary education; employment; parenthood); 3) psychological characteristics (optimism); 4) energy (e.g., in care participation in skills acquisition activities; post-care material deprivation, earnings, satisfaction with work/finance/housing domain).

Methods: The sample was randomly drawn from the whole population of eight graduating cohorts of alumni of educational residential care in Israel and consists of 2, 295 alumni (24-31 years old). The dataset combines an extensive set of longitudinal administrative records and structured phone interviews. Bivariate correlations and multiple regression models were used to assess associations between resources in different life stages including: pre-care, in-care and post-care experiences and achievements with psychological distress.

Results: Overall, results showed that factors in each of the four categories of resources in COR theory made a significant contribution to the young adults' mental health. Lower levels of the resources of psychological characteristics (optimism), conditions (support from social networks and higher education), object and energy (material depravation) before entering care, during care and after leaving care resulted in greater PD during emerging adulthood. Specifically, results indicated the importance of social support from peers and staff while in and after care in predicting lower psychological distress among the young adults. Participating in skills acquisition activities while in care also predicted lower psychological distress. In contrast, lower life satisfaction in the area of finance and work were associated with greater psychological distress.

Conclusions and implications: The findings strengthen earlier calls among scholars that determinants of mental health include individual, social and societal factors and their interaction with each other. Thus, to prevent PD and promote mental health there is a need to simultaneously target several multilayered factors. Also, the current study's findings also correspond with resilience research and theory which emphasize the importance of processes and systems that are engaged in obtaining better than- expected outcomes in the face or wake of adversity. As such, increasing the amount or and assets that are quality of resources available to youth in order to promote their resilience is highly significant. Finally, both the subjective experiences and the objective conditions contribute to care leavers' mental health. Therefore, our results indicate the importance for policy and practice of approaching mental health issues in a holistic manner.