Abstract: "I'm Glad That I Was Given a Second Chance to Live": The Buffering Impact of Turning Points in the Lives of Young People with Foster Care Experience (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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"I'm Glad That I Was Given a Second Chance to Live": The Buffering Impact of Turning Points in the Lives of Young People with Foster Care Experience

Friday, January 13, 2023
Estrella, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Taussig, PhD, Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Louise Roberts, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University
Jonathan Scourfield, PhD, Professor, Cardiff University
Colette Franz, BA, Master's student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: Young people with a history of out-of-home care (OOHC) are at risk for a host of adverse outcomes. However, many children who experience significant childhood adversity demonstrate resilience by young adulthood. One mechanism by which well-being may be achieved is through a turning point, defined as a ‘‘subjective account of lived experience which involves some degree of change in situation, behaviour, or meaning’’ (Clausen, 1995). This study sought to answer two key questions: (1) What do turning points look like for young adults with OOHC care experience? (2) Does having a turning point buffer the impact of early adversity on young adult well-being?

Method: Participants included 173 racially/ethnically diverse young people in the Fostering Healthy Futures study who were interviewed in pre-adolescence (at ages 9-11) and again in young adulthood (ages 18-22). At baseline, all children were in out-of-home care. By young adulthood, 88% had lived with relatives, 76% had lived in non-relative foster care, 52% had lived in congregate care, 45% had reunified with birth families, and 27% had experienced adoption (non-exclusive categories). A published measure of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) indexed baseline adversity. At both interview timepoints, young people were asked to complete a measure of Life Satisfaction (LS). In young adulthood, participants were asked the following open-ended question: Thinking back across your entire life and all the experiences you’ve had (either related to out-of-home care or not), have you ever experienced a major turning point that changed the way you thought about something or how you behaved? If yes, what was the turning point? How old were you when that turning point happened? Two raters independently, and then via consensus, coded each narrative’s content as belonging to each of 20 categories of events/attitudes/behaviors.

Results: One-fifth of participants stated that they did not have a turning point (TP). Having a TP was unrelated to gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, living situation history, or type of maltreatment. Of those with a TP, 89% reported just one TP with an average age of 16 at the TP. The most frequent TP categories were moment of maturation/realization, followed by engagement in positive behaviors/attitudes or stopping negative behaviors/attitudes. A little less than half endorsed a negative or positive event as the TP. A multiple regression predicting young adult LS found a significant interaction (b=0.24, , p<.05) between having a TP and ACEs, over and above baseline LS and gender. For those with a TP, there was no association between ACEs and LS but for those without a TP there was a negative association between ACEs and LS (b=-0.32, p<.01).

Conclusions and Implications: For young adults with a history of OOHC, having a TP in adolescence buffered the impact of early adversity on young adult well-being. The nature of the TPs varied, but having any TP seemed to lead to meaning making, realizations and hopefulness that may serve as protective factors while navigating the transition to adulthood. Practice implications will be discussed.