Foster Youth, Caseworkers Diverge in Views of Youths’ Preparedness for College

This memo adds to the growing literature on the transition to college for young people in foster care, focusing specifically on issues of preparedness to enter higher education. This memo compares the perceptions of foster youth and their child welfare worker of how prepared the youth is to pursue their education goals. Comparing foster youth and their workers’ perceptions can be beneficial because, in cases where perceptions between youth and workers diverge, workers are in a good position to help youth form more realistic views about their academic preparedness. A related issue faced by college-bound foster youth is the extent to which the college they ultimately enroll in matches their qualifications. Given the effect of college characteristics on student success, this memo aims to provide a conversation starter on college match as an important issue to further investigate for foster youth transitioning out of care.

What we did

First, we assessed the extent to which foster youths’ perceptions and their child welfare workers’ perceptions of youth’s educational preparedness at age 19 each predicted the likelihood that youth enrolled in college by age 20. Next, we examined the level of agreement between youth and their worker about how ready the youth was to pursue their educational goals. Finally, we investigated the extent to which foster youth enrolled in colleges that aligned with their academic proficiency, identifying cases of misalignment.

What we found

More than half of the sample had enrolled in college by age 20, with enrollment in 2-year colleges being more common than enrollment in 4-year colleges. Caseworkers’ perceptions of youth’s educational preparedness significantly predicted their expected odds of entering college by age 20, but youth’s perceptions were not significantly related to enrollment. In general, foster youth rated themselves as being more prepared to achieve their educational goals than did their child welfare worker. About one in five youth had what we considered to be a substantially higher rating of their educational preparedness than their worker had of them. Reading proficiency at age 17 was used as a proxy for academic proficiency; most of the youth were reading below age level at age 17. Overall, about one in six youth who enrolled in college by age 20 were reading at an average or above average level, yet enrolled in a 2-year college. We considered these youth to be undermatched because it is plausible that they could have gained admission to a 4-year college.

What it means

One of the implications of the findings is that workers’ perceptions of youths’ preparedness are important in anticipating college enrollment. Misalignment between youth’s and caseworker’s perceptions may also present a good opportunity for intervention. Conversations about alignment of perceptions can be a springboard for an active planning process, where concrete steps that youth can take to achieve their educational goals are identified (and workers can track and support). This memo also highlights the need to link foster youth to high-quality advising to assist with selecting a college that matches their interests, abilities, and life circumstances. Given the limited time and personnel constraints in secondary schools, child welfare departments may need to redouble advocacy efforts or develop innovative responses to meet this need. This is consistent with the overall goals of extended foster care of helping foster youth attain a good footing before exiting care at age 21.

Recommended Citation
Torres-García, A., Okpych, N. J., & Courtney, M. E. (2019). Memo from CalYOUTH: Youths’ and child welfare workers’ perceptions of youths’ educational preparedness. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Youths' and Child Welfare Workers' Perceptions of Youths' Educational Preparedness