Abstract: Removing the Barriers: A Holistic Approach to Higher Education for Youth with Experiences of Displacement and Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Removing the Barriers: A Holistic Approach to Higher Education for Youth with Experiences of Displacement and Foster Care

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Taylor Ellis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Jacksonville State University, AL
Stefanie Binion, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Alabama
Holly Register, Director of Quality Assurance, Embrace Alabama Kids
Kristin Alberda, Lcsw, Embrace Alabama Kids
Background and Purpose:

Although researchers and practitioners have begun to recognize the need for wrap-around services to support youth entering college from foster care or alternative backgrounds, there is currently a nationwide shortage of programs and evidence-based approaches prepared to address the needs of this population. This paper presents survey findings from Embrace Alabama Kids, a multi-site higher education program which provides holistic services to assist foster care alumni and displaced youth to overcome barriers preventing them from obtaining a postsecondary degree.


The sample includes 30 college-aged emerging adults who participated in the program between August of 2014 and May of 2018. Participating students were between 18 and 23 years old, at varying educational trajectories ranging from freshman to seniors living in two different higher education homes or nearby in program approved apartments, located in the southeastern region of the United States.

Using Cuseo’s framework for college success, the researchers created a survey to measure personal and academic outcomes for students who participated in the scholarship program. The survey contains 11 items to which participants respond on a Likert scale regarding frequency of class attendance, social interactions, services accessed, extracurricular activities, academic assistance, and spiritual care utilized by students.
We conducted descriptive statistics to explore the level of in- and out-of-class activities and t-tests to assess for significant differences in survey responses between males and females. Lastly, we used Pearson’s Correlation to measure the association between student GPA and their total survey score.


In and out of class engagement, number of absences, academic confidence, and personal development influence student academic success. Regarding in-class activities, 98.96% reported they were “Always” or “Almost Always” actively listening. 92.55% stated they “Always” or “Almost Always” took notes in class. 76.04% reported zero absences and more than half reported studying 20+ hours per week. 42.7% felt “Confident” or “Very Confident” they would receive a grade of a “B” or better in their classes.
Regarding personal development, males used resources and participated in spiritual activities at a greater rate than females and with higher frequency. Females engaged in a higher number of co-curriculars than males and participated more frequently.
Finally, the average GPA for all students was a 2.71. The total average GPA and total average survey scores across the semesters were not significant (p = .072). However, the overall average survey score was significantly correlated with survey scores for the first three semesters.

Conclusions and Implications:

33.3% of students in the program have graduated. This is three times higher than identified in the research for the foster care population, and slightly higher than individuals who graduate with a bachelor’s degree or more. Findings equip service providers, campuses, and policy makers with tools to advocate for holistic formal and informal support networks and services accessed and utilized by former foster youth to effectively assist them in reaching their full potential.