Methods: We use CalYOUTH Study data collected at age 17 (n=727), age 19, (n=611), age 21 (n=616), and age 23 (n=620) to compare differences in social support between youth who had and had not ever been placed in congregate care. Social support variables came from the Social Support Network Questionnaire (Gee & Rhodes, 2008), asking youth to: 1) nominate individuals they could turn to for three support types (emotional, tangible, advice/guidance); 2) rate their perceived adequacy (“enough people” vs. “not enough”) of each support type; and 3) identify their relationship with each nominee (source). A fourth measure was a count the number of total support nominees (size). Chi-square tests and t-tests were used to examine social support differences by congregate care history.
Results: More than half of CalYOUTH participants (54%) had been in a congregate care placement before age 18. Adequacy and size of social support were generally lower at later ages than at age 17. Compared to youth who had never been in congregate care, youth with congregate care histories were more likely to report having 1) not enough support and 2) fewer people to turn to for most types and sources of social support. For example, youth with congregate care histories were less likely than their peers to report having enough “emotional support” (age 17: 60% vs. 71%; age 23: 49% vs. 65%) and more likely to nominate fewer “peers” as supports (age 17: 0.9 vs. 1.1; age 21: 1.0 vs. 1.2) (all p<.05). Additionally, we found an interaction between gender and congregate care status, with females in congregate care perceiving the lowest adequacy of support, while males in congregate care nominating the fewest number of supports compared to other groups. Black youth and American Indian youth in congregate care settings tended to have the lowest support adequacy and the smallest support-network sizes.
Conclusions/Implications: Youth with congregate care histories named significantly fewer people as social supports, which was consistent with their perception of not having adequate support. These findings were especially pronounced for Black and American Indian youth, who are overrepresented in U.S. foster care. These early findings call for further research, but should also alert child welfare agencies that efforts to cultivate and nurture supportive relationships may need to be redoubled for young people in congregate care.