Many California Foster Youth Have Inadequate Social Support and Need More Support From Adults

This memo examines whether there were differences in the types and sources of social support of transition-age foster youth based on their extended foster care status and placement type at age 19. The three types of social support investigated were emotional support, tangible support, and advice/guidance. The three sources of social support investigated were professionals, relatives, and peers.

What We Did

Data for this memo come from participants in the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study when they were 19 years old. CalYOUTH includes a representative sample of adolescents in California foster care and provides a unique opportunity to examine differences in social support between those who remained in care past age 18 and those who were no longer in care.

What We Found

About 40 percent of transition-age foster youth said they did not have enough people to turn to for emotional support, nearly half said they did not have enough people for tangible support, and over 30 percent did not have enough people to turn to for advice/guidance. Significantly greater proportions of in-care youth than out-of-care youth reported that they had enough people to turn to for tangible support and for advice/guidance. In-care youth were also four times more likely than out-of-care youth to identify a professional as someone they turned to for one or more types of support. Importantly, extended care was not found to be associated with a reduced likelihood of youth identifying relatives as support figures.

Differences were also found in social support by where youth resided. Youth in relative foster homes were more likely than youth in nearly every other placement type to nominate a family member as a support. At the same time, youth in relative foster homes were less likely than youth in Supported Independent Living Placements (SILPs), transitional housing placements (THPs), and therapeutic foster care homes to nominate a professional as a support figure. In contrast, youth in THPs and therapeutic foster homes were more likely than youth in nonrelative foster homes, relative foster homes, and SILPs to nominate a professional as a support. Youth living in nonrelative foster homes were significantly more likely to nominate peers as supports than were youth in therapeutic foster care homes, relative foster homes, and “other” placements. Young people in SILPs were more likely to rely on peers and less likely to rely on professionals than were youth in some other placements.

What It Means

The fact that many youth reported having inadequate support in each of the domains we studied calls for renewed efforts to ensure that these young people have adults they can rely on as they transition to adulthood, regardless of where they happen to be living.

Policies and practices that promote the formation of natural mentors and peer mentors are promising initiatives to augment the social support networks of foster youth.

The placement types used to provide housing for youth perceived to need more adult care and supervision (therapeutic foster care homes and supported transitional housing) were most strongly associated with connections to professionals, suggesting that these living arrangements may be accomplishing one of their central purposes. While foster care agencies prioritize placements with relatives when possible, it may also be necessary for child welfare workers to ensure that foster youth living with family are connected to skilled, resourceful professionals.

Recommended citation
Okpych, N. J., Park, K., Feng, H., Torres-Garcia, A., & Courtney, M. E. (2018). Memo from CalYOUTH: Differences in social support at age 19 by extended foster care status and placement type. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.