Fostering Resiliency among Former Foster Youth

by Heather L. Fox / Nov 17, 2016

Researchers have painted a stark picture of the lives of former foster youth as they transition into adulthood. Former foster youth face notable barriers in transitioning to adulthood, including financial hardships, exposure to dangerous environments, and untreated mental health issues. Specifically, former foster youth have high rates of homelessness, food insecurity, and joblessness, as well as lower income rates (Courtney, Dworsky, Brown, Cary, Love, & Vorhies, 2011; Curry & Abrams, 2015). They are also far more likely to live in and be exposed to dangerous environments where they are exposed to violence, drugs, and other illegal activities (Curry & Abrams, 2015; Courtney et al., 2011). Compounding these challenges, there is a precipitous drop in mental health service utilization, a 60% drop, during the first year after foster youth age out of the child welfare system (Jones, 2014; McMillen & Raghavan, 2009). In light of the challenges faced both in primary and secondary education, and in transitioning into adulthood, it can be anticipated that postsecondary outcomes for former foster youth are equally stark. And they are. In fact, only about 10% of former foster youth attend postsecondary education, and those who do attend postsecondary education are half as likely as their peers to complete their studies (Davis, 2006; Wolanin, 2005).

With a growing awareness of the barriers and outcomes faced by former foster youth, a variety of stakeholders, including the federal and state governments, researchers, community-based organizations, universities, and colleges, have supported the development of policies, programs, and practices designed to support former foster youth (Fried, 2008; Sarubbi, Parker, & Sponsler, 2016).  Interventions designed to promote resilience processes among foster youth have been shown to empower foster youth with new behavioral models and increase access to important support structures (Leve, et al., 2012; Morton, 2016; Morrison & Allen, 2007). Research on initiatives aimed at improving postsecondary outcomes by building resiliency among former foster youth has also shown positive outcomes (Geenen, Powers, & Phillips, 2015; Hernandez & Naccarato, 2010; Kirk & Day, 2010). Likewise, federal and state policies providing an extension of care and financial aid support for former foster youth attending postsecondary education have increased both postsecondary enrollment and supports offered to former foster youth (Sarubbi et al., 2016). However, while initial research on many of these policies, programs, and practices has shown positive impacts, the scale of these changes is such that they reach only a minute fraction of former foster youth; there is still substantial knowledge needed to test and expand these interventions at scale (Hernandez & Naccarato, 2010; Kirk & Day, 2011; Sarubbi et al., 2016).

OCCRL’s newest FEATURE on Research and Leadership brief, Reality and Resiliency: The Educational Needs and Strengths of Former Foster Youth, provides an overview of educational outcomes of former foster youth; outlines the importance of building policies, programs, and practices that support resiliency among former foster youth; and provides areas for future research necessary to expand current initiatives to scale.


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