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George Mason University

Postsecondary Education Support May Help Former Foster Care Youth Improve Social Connection

July 23, 2018

By Jiaxi Zhang

The contemporary passage to adulthood is a vital period for young adults in the United States. It is the time for them to explore their opportunities and “try on” commitments of adulthood. However, due to the lack of financial and social support, youth in the foster care system who have been convicted of delinquency are reported to have a higher likelihood of adult criminal behavior as a result of disrupted educational attainment due to their time in the juvenile justice system. This reflects a process of social exclusion.

In a study published online in the Journal of Youth Studies, CHHS Assistant Professor of Social Work Dr. JoAnn Lee used a social exclusion framework to examine how status as an adjudicated delinquent and independent living services (ILS) are related to outcomes in early adulthood for foster youth aging out of care.

Lee used data from two sources: the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). A sample of 7412 individuals was analyzed to explore the relationships among adjudication status, independent living services, social exclusion, and social connectedness at age 19. The majority (90.0%) of the youth in the final sample were 17 at the start of the year, and a little less than half (46.7%) were males. Forty-five percent were White, 30.8% were Black, 16.2% were Hispanic, and 8.0% reported either another or multiple races.

The study found a strong link between adjudication status and social exclusion. The youth who were adjudicated delinquents, who typically report the highest service need, received more ILS services.  This suggests that services are being appropriately targeted. Yet, youth who were adjudicated delinquents also were the most likely (2.8 times as likely when controlling for other factors) to report experiences of social exclusion at age 19, including homelessness and incarceration.  

The study also showed that receipt of ILS related to postsecondary education, the norm for their age group, were associated with a higher likelihood of experiences of being socially connected at age 19 (working or school enrollment) and a lower likelihood of experiences of social exclusion. Meanwhile, receipt of ILS related to delayed or alternative pathways to adulthood (e.g., special education services or career services) were related to a lower likelihood of experiences of social connection but no association with experiences of social exclusion. This suggests that youth who may have been struggling academically were not making the transition into work and school.

Looking forward, Lee suggests that we consider investing in alternative pathways to adulthood other than postsecondary school. “Perhaps investing in alternative pathways that will develop the capabilities of young adults regardless of their prior academic struggles could create successful interventions that will shift trajectories.”

Related people: JoAnn Lee, PhD
Topics: Research
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