Abstract: (Withdrawn) The Intersections of State-Level Variations in Safety Net Generosity and Child Welfare Service Utilization for Youth Aging out of Foster Care: An Equity-Framework Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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694P (Withdrawn) The Intersections of State-Level Variations in Safety Net Generosity and Child Welfare Service Utilization for Youth Aging out of Foster Care: An Equity-Framework Analysis

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Nadon, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, IL
Marci Ybarra, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Since welfare reform’s devolution of authority to states in the design of safety net programs, a substantial body of literature demonstrates local variation in these provisions. Moreover, state-level variations in safety net generosity is often racialized, with more restrictive states having higher shares of Black and Latinx low-income families. Similarly, the child welfare system is highly racialized. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families endure significantly higher rates of system contact in every level of the child welfare system (Roberts, 2009). Evidence indicates that racialized child welfare outcomes extend into adulthood for young people who have experienced foster care placement, with high rates of adversities such as homelessness and incarceration experienced disproportionately by youth of color (e.g., Dworsky et. al., 2013; Roberts, 2011). States are mandated to provide young adults exiting foster care with supportive services. Similar to safety net supports, these transition services are also delegated to states and locales.

Despite the overlap in policy authority and the racialized nature of both systems, little evidence exists on the intersection of these provisions and the take-up of child welfare transition services. This oversight is critical; these youth are not only eligible for transitional foster care services, but also may be eligible for and use safety net programs. Given that both systems’ produce racialized outcomes, it may be that some young adults forgo child welfare transition services when more generous safety net programs are available. Alternatively, young adults may be more likely to use transition services when safety net programs are restricted. To understand these complexities, this paper explores the following question: Does state variation in child welfare and safety net policies influence service take-up for older foster youth?

Methods: We compile a database of state-level demographics and program/policy metrics related to child welfare (e.g. extended foster care, kinship payments) and safety net programs (e.g. Medicaid expansion, TANF, SNAP, SSI) that vary across states. We merge these data with the National Youth in Transition Database, which documents transition services provided to young adults aging out of foster care by state. We conduct analysis on the association of young adults transition services take-up relative to the generosity of state’s safety net programs (using indices for each program) while controlling for state-level demographics..

Results: We find significant heterogeneity in service take-up rates by state, indicating that location plays a significant role in service access for transition-age foster youth. Moreover, we find that, much like evidence on the safety net, service utilization is highly correlated with a young person’s race/ethnicity, and with the state demographics and policy environments.

Conclusions and implications: Variations in child welfare and related policies have significant implications for service access and equity for older youth exiting foster care. Our results suggest that service use by transition-age foster youth is correlated with the existing social policy landscape in states. Expanding service access for this population should be a goal of the broader social policy advocacy and safety net provisions for this group in particular.