Abstract: Examining Employment Status and Earnings of Former Foster Youth By Discharge Type (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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516P Examining Employment Status and Earnings of Former Foster Youth By Discharge Type

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Leah Bouchard, AM, PhD Candidate, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Jamie Cage, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Aaron Kemmerer, MSW, Doctoral Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, VA
Sunny Shin, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Gabriela Ksinan Jiskrova, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
Background and Purpose: Safety, well-being, and permanency are the three main goals of the United States public child welfare system. Policies implemented to secure permanency follow the assumption that permanency is a conduit to well-being, healthy development, and adaptive functioning. Unfortunately, research is limited in exploring the extent to which permanency is associated with positive developmental role attainment (e.g., employment, earnings). Youth who experienced foster care are regularly noted as having low socioeconomic status in adulthood. They tend to have lower rates of educational attainment and employment, higher reliance on social services, and higher rates of housing instability than their same age peers in the general population (Courtney, 2009; Courtney et al., 2011; Courtney, Okpych, & Park, 2018; Dion et al., 2014; Pecora et al., 2006; Zlotnick, 2009). Most of the research in this area compares foster youth to their non-foster care peers, but fewer studies have explored how discharge types impact socioeconomic status. Nationally, at least 50% of youth in foster care exit the child welfare system to reunify with their family of removal every year (Virginia Poverty Law Center, 2019). In FY 2017, an additional 33% left the child welfare system to the guardianship of a relative caregiver who is not their biological parent (Williams & Sepulveda, 2019). By not examining how the type of discharge may impact their socioeconomic status in young adulthood, we may be failing to provide the necessary support for a significant portion of youth who were formerly in foster care.

Methods: Through secondary data analysis of the Virginia Longitudinal Data System and framed by the theory of Emerging Adulthood, the current study aimed to examine the extent to which discharge type was associated with employment and earnings of 4,940 former foster youth (ages 19-26). Specifically, comparing outcomes between youth who reunified with their families or were placed with a relative, to youth who emancipated from foster care, while holding constant factors related to demographics (e.g., biological sex), child welfare involvement (e.g., # of placements), education (e.g, high school completion), and adversities (e.g., neglect). Earnings were examined according to the poverty and living wages determined by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia (Glasmeier, 2020). Logistic regression analyses were used to assess the relationship between type of discharge from foster care and socioeconomic status.

Results: More than half of the sample (53.77 %) discharged care through emancipation. The majority of the sample (97.57 %) made at or below poverty wages even though more than half (53.60 %) of them were employed. Discharge type was not linked to employment nor earnings, However, completing high school and attending college were both related to being employed and being in a higher earning category (e.g., living wage).

Conclusions and Implications: Overall these findings suggest high rates of poverty amongst former foster youth. Findings provide evidence for reimagining the available supports for all youth who experience foster care, regardless of their discharge type, to promote equity and sustainability for these youth and their socioeconomic trajectories.