Abstract: The Role of Enduring Relationships in Early-Adult Outcomes Among Youth Transitioning out of 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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The Role of Enduring Relationships in Early-Adult Outcomes Among Youth Transitioning out of Foster Care

Friday, January 13, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford
Sunggeun (Ethan) Park, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Jenna Powers, MSW, PhD Candidate, Research Assistant,, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Justin Harty, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, AZ
Mark Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Enduring relationships (i.e., long-lasting, supportive relationships that youth can rely on for support) are instrumental to young people transitioning from adolescence to early adulthood (Masten, 2014). However, the ability to form enduring relationships is compromised for many youth in foster care due to separation from birth families, multiple placement and school changes, and caseworker turnover. As a field, we know little about how prevalent enduring relationships are among transition-age foster youth (Samuels, 2009). Further, scholars are just beginning to investigate if and how these enduring relationships lead to more favorable outcomes later in life (Cushings et al., 2013). This study investigates the prevalence, characteristics, predictors, and impact of enduring relationships.

Methods: The sample includes 608 youths who completed the Wave 1 and Wave 3 CalYOUTH interviews. We used youths’ responses to the Social Support Network Questionnaire (Gee & Rhodes, 2008) to capture their enduring relationships—individuals that youth nominated as someone they turn to for emotional support, tangible support, and/or advice at both Wave 1 (at age 17) and Wave 3 (at age 21). Then, we examined differences in relational characteristics (e.g., type of support(s) provided, relational strain) between enduring relationships and faded relationships (individuals nominated only at Wave 1) and emerging relationships (individuals nominated only at Wave 3). We also used logistic regression to examine whether several sets of youth characteristics (e.g., demographics, personality traits, behavioral health problems, educational history, maltreatment and foster care history, other risk and protective factors) predicted the odds of having an enduring relationship. Finally, using regression analyses, we examine whether having an enduring relationship reduced hardships (e.g., homelessness) and/or promoted favorable outcomes (e.g., advancing in school) at age 21, net of potential confounders.


Just under half of study participants (47.9%) had an enduring relationship, and about three-quarters of these enduring relationships were with biological family members (40.6%) or peers (32.5%). Compared to faded and emerging relationships, enduring relationships were more likely to provide multiple types of support and contained more relational strain (e.g., conflict). Hispanic youth were more likely to have enduring relationships than their non-Hispanic peers, while Black youth and Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American/Alaska Native youth had lower rates of enduring relationships than White youth. Having an enduring relationship significantly (p<.05) decreased the number of economic hardships (Incidence Risk Ratio=0.69), past-year food insecurity (Odds Ratio [OR]= 0.50), recent homelessness (OR=0.59), and number of times homeless (coef= -0.56). Conversely, youth with an enduring relationship were expected to earn about $3,400 more between ages 18 and 21 than youth without an enduring relationship.

Conclusions and Implications:

Our findings underscore the need and importance of enduring relationships for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. While it is encouraging that enduring relationships help youth to avoid hardships, it is concerning that half of the youth did not have an enduring relationship. The findings align with recent calls to amplify relational permanence in child welfare services for transition-age youth, which will entail infusing interdependence into policy and practice without undermining interdependent living preparation.