Abstract: Results of a Pilot Study of the Fostering Higher Education Postsecondary Support Program for Youth 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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Results of a Pilot Study of the Fostering Higher Education Postsecondary Support Program for Youth with Foster Care Experience

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Amy Salazar, PhD, Associate Professor, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
Sara Spiers, MPA, Graduate Research Assistant, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
Maija Bennett, Research assistant, Washington State University
Kevin Haggerty, MSW, Professor, University of Washington
Background and Purpose: Many youth in foster care have aspirations of completing postsecondary education, but face obstacles to achieving this goal. The Fostering Higher Education (FHE) program was developed to help address these obstacles. FHE is a 2-year postsecondary access and retention intervention. A professional educational advocate (EA) works with youth to help them clarify and pursue their educational goals, and implements the Top 6 Potential Pitfalls for Higher Education curriculum to help youth avoid common pitfalls found to be associated with college dropout. A mentor works with youth to help them have positive postsecondary experiences. The current study shares the results of the first full-length pilot study of FHE, the two primary goals of which were to (a) assess the feasibility of implementing FHE; and (b) preliminarily assess the impact of FHE on postsecondary-related outcomes.

Methods: To be eligible for participation, youth must (a) be a junior in high school or in a GED program, (b) be in foster care, and (c) have not yet ruled out pursuing postsecondary education. Thirteen participants were randomly assigned to receive the FHE intervention, and 12 were randomly assigned to a services-as-usual comparison group. Youth participated in the FHE program from the time of study enrollment (sometime between April 2019 and March 2020) until the end of February 2021. The COVID-19 global pandemic started in the middle of this pilot study, March 2020, and substantially impacted intervention implementation due to all activities needing to be implemented remotely.

Results: Implementation: Students met with the EA at least once per month 62% of the time prior to COVID and 58% of the time during COVID. Common challenges that interfered with participation included youth having periods of running away, being in restrictive placements, and going through disruptive placement changes. For meetings that did occur, the EA found the intervention easy to deliver, with very few challenges (Mean = 1.6 on a scale of 1 = Not at all Challenging to 7 = Very Challenging). Out of the multiple program components, participants reported the mentoring component as the most engaging, relevant, and helpful (all mean score = 6 on a scale from 1 = Not at All to 7 = Very Much).

Outcomes: Participants in the FHE group experienced larger reductions in perceived barriers to postsecondary education than the comparison group (Cohen’s d=-0.55, indicating a moderate effect size). FHE participants had much lower participation in postsecondary preparation tasks at baseline (mean of 2.9 tasks in the past year compared to a mean of 6.6 in the past year for comparison youth). However, following implementation FHE youth had made considerable gains in postsecondary preparation activities (a mean of 8.6 tasks since baseline compared to a mean of 7.7 tasks since baseline for the comparison group).

Conclusions and Implications: Fostering Higher Education is one promising program that offers much-needed support to these youth in overcoming barriers to achievement of postsecondary education. Larger, longitudinal studies of FHE are needed to assess whether and to what extent it impacts postsecondary completion.