Abstract: Examining Prevalence and Predictors of Food Insecurity for Transition-Age Foster Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Examining Prevalence and Predictors of Food Insecurity for Transition-Age Foster Youth

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Nadon, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, IL
Sunggeun (Ethan) Park, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford
Justin Harty, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, AZ
Mark Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose. Food insecurity is a concerning policy problem affecting about 15% of households with children in the U.S. (Hales & Coleman-Jensen, 2022). Food insecurity has serious consequences for youth and is often associated with poor academic performance and increased risk for behavioral and physical health concerns (e.g., Fram & Ritche, 2015; McLaughlin, 2012). Transition-age foster youth are a specific subpopulation who often face substantial adversities compared to same-aged peers in the general population. These include lower rates of employment, and higher rates of both poverty and economic hardships such as food insecurity (e.g., Dworsky, 2005; Stewart et. al., 2014). Limited research has examined factors that mitigate food insecurity for older foster youth despite evidence of its associated consequences. This study explores the prevalence and predictors of food insecurity for older foster youth.

Methods. We used California child welfare administrative data and four waves of survey data from the CalYOUTH Study. Our sample includes 692 youths who participated in surveys conducted at ages 17, 19, 21, and 23. Our outcome was constructed from the USDA’s food insecurity measure. Youth were classified as food insecure if they experienced two or more of the following difficulties in the past year: Anyone in the household skipped/cut the size of meals because of not having enough money for food; Did not eat for a whole day; Ate less than you should; Did not have enough money to buy food after food didn’t last; and Could not afford to eat balanced meals. We used logistic regression to explore risk and protective factors associated with youths’ food insecurity. Multiple imputation was used to minimize bias from missing data on the predictors.

Results. About three-in-ten CalYOUTH participants experienced food insecurity when they were 19 (29%), 21 (29%), and 23 (28%) years old. The most common type of insecurity at all three ages was inability to afford to eat balanced meals. Regression results identified several important risk and protective factors. After controlling for various youth and county-level factors, youth with minority sexual identities had higher odds of experiencing insecurity at ages 19 (OR=2.77, p<.001) and 23 (OR=2.53, p=.001) than did youth who identified at 100% heterosexual. The odds of experiencing food insecurity decreased by 2.1% at age 21 (p=.037) and 2.8% at age 23 (p=0.011) for every $1,000 increase in income. TANF payment was associated with lower odds of insecurity at ages 21 (OR=0.72, p=.004) and 23 (OR=0.87, p=.045). Youth with substance use or mental health disorders at age 17 had higher odds of food insecurity at age 19 (OR=1.96, p=.008) and age 23 (OR=1.96, p=.006).

Conclusions and Implications. Our findings indicate that targeted interventions, especially those tailored to the unique needs of youth who identify as sexual minorities and those with behavioral health concerns, are needed for this population. Interventions focused on increasing income (e.g., employment and education supports) and increasing access to needed services (e.g., TANF) should be a focus of future advocacy, research, and practice to address food insecurity in this population.