The following links and excerpts support the need for permanent connections, relational support and the need to move from independent to interdependent skill development for youth who have aged out of the foster care system, as well as other under-resourced youth populations.
The Importance of Permanent Relationships
Developing healthy and lasting relationships is essential for young people to become successful and productive adults. The development of secure and permanent relationships, or “permanency,” is of paramount importance and is essential to the future well-being of maltreated children. Without secure and stable relationships, youth who grow up in foster care have greater difficulty achieving positive life outcomes – in fact, youth who “age out” of foster care after reaching the legal age of majority without permanent relationships face a greater risk of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and dependence on public assistance.
Relationships can be hard on youth in the child welfare system if they haven’t been taught positive behaviors or if they’re continuing to be hurt by those closest to them. Service providers really have the opportunity to support youth in their exploration and education on relationships. Currently, there is not enough done to support foster youth in learning about healthy relationships, or helping them heal from past traumatic experiences that could impact their future relationships.
The Adolescent Brain – Key to Success in Adulthood Extending Foster Care Policy Toolkit: Paper 5 of 5
Experience matters more than we ever thought during adolescence, especially experiences within relationships. The more and varied relationships a young person can maintain within family, peers, school, work, or in their community, the better positioned they will be to achieve a healthy and balanced adulthood. Experiences during adolescence can largely determine future success as adults.
Living in foster care makes it difficult for young people to develop lasting relationships with adults who will continue to provide support during the transition to adulthood. These relationships can be an important resource for young people faced with the challenge of finding suitable housing. Without these relationships, young people—particularly former foster youth who experienced several placements or resided in congregate care—must navigate the housing search process, negotiate relationships with landlords, or choose roommates all on their own.
“Whether the burdens come from the hardships of poverty, the challenges of parental abuse or serious mental illness, the stresses of war, the threats of recurring violence or chronic neglect, or a combination of factors, the single most common finding is that children who end up doing well have had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult”
Foster care is designed to be temporary. Its purpose is to provide care for children/youth/NMDs living in unsafe and dangerous situations, while supportive services are offered to them and their families towards a goal of family reunification. However, hundreds of thousands of children/youth/NMDs find themselves growing up in foster care, without permanent families or any lifelong connections…Many lack permanence in their lives. With the recognition of the urgent need for permanent lifelong connections for all children/youth/NMDs in foster care, the importance and need for training and education has become paramount.
“There is clearly variability in the employment outcomes of youth. One of the most consistent predictors of employment and wages is an individual’s human capital, or stock of education and skills. Social capital refers to the personal relationships youth may have that could facilitate employment, such as access to an adult who could provide assistance getting a job or access to a social network that could provide information about employment opportunities. Youths’ experience in foster care affects their social capital. Ties to adults that can aid youth in finding employment may be weaker for youth who exited from group care or a residential treatment center, were emancipated early, or who experienced many moves while in care.
Understanding the void: The importance of relationship development and how it impacts foster care youth outcomes
Based on the negative lifelong outcomes of foster care youth, it is clear that something is missing from the foster care system. However, there is little to no research focusing on relationship-building as a point of intervention. A system change that incorporates relationship development, acceptance and understanding, healthy attachments, open communication, and longer, quality services, is necessary to fill in the cracks that so many foster care youth fall through.
In the United States, more than 20,000 youths “age out” of foster care each year. But leaving foster care presents its own challenges. Only 55 percent of former foster youths report having a high school diploma or GED by the time they’re 19, compared with 87 percent of their peers in the population sample. Significant efforts are made by policymakers at all levels to improve educational, social and economic outcomes for this at-risk group, with mixed results. One way to help improve the outcomes of foster youths may be to focus on relationship-building skills. Research suggests that healthy and supportive relationships improve life chances for foster youth. But so far there have been relatively few attempts to build insights into these programs and practice.
The benefits of a safe and stable place to live are widely recognized. A growing body of literature suggests that, in addition to meeting the basic human need for shelter, safe and stable housing can function as a “platform” that promotes positive outcomes across a range of domains from education to employment to physical and mental health. Conversely, living in housing that is unsafe or unstable can be a significant impediment to positive outcomes. Housing stability matters throughout life but may be especially important during certain developmental stages such as the transition to adulthood because of its relationship to self-sufficiency. A lack of stable housing can impede efforts to become self-sufficient. It is difficult for young people to pursue education and training or to find and keep a job if their housing is unstable. Conversely, young people are better able to continue their schooling and maintain gainful employment if they are stably housed. Healthy relationships are a vital component of health and wellbeing. There is compelling evidence that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy, and happy life. Conversely, the health risks from being alone or isolated in one’s life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and obesity.
The California Youth Connection (CYC) observes that foster youth must cope with a lack of consistency in school curricula, difficulties in securing quality health care, and challenges in developing and maintaining positive and trusting relationships with adults.
In 2007, the Children’s Advocacy Institute reported that 65% of foster youth do not have a place to live upon emancipating, 51% are unemployed, and “only 20% of those who complete high school even begin to pursue postsecondary education, compared with 60% of their peers. The percentage of all former foster youth who attain a college degree is even lower, at only 1– 3%.
Many youth leave foster care with disrupted relationships with their family and others in their social networks. Previous research has documented the severe adversity that former foster youth face in the transition to young adulthood. Perhaps some difficulties are at least partially related to a lack of social support that results from frayed relationships. This article reviews the literature on social support, particularly as it relates to foster youth, for the purpose of examining the role that formal and informal supports play in the transition to adulthood.
Being taken away from your parents and placed in the foster care system at a young age can produce lasting, detrimental effects that can carry over into adulthood and infect future relationships.
The Northwest Foster Care Alumni performed a study, which concluded that 54.4 percent of alumni had significant mental health problems, including depression, social problems, anxiety and PTSD.
These results are due to foster care’s disruptive nature between a child and caregiver.
In turn, foster care children tend to struggle to attach, or become overly attached to caregivers. Sadly, attachment issues are deep-seated and tend to transfer from caregivers to partners.
The Significant Impacts of Permanent
Relationships and Mentorship
Connections to non-parental adults through informal mentoring is reported to enhance the outcomes of foster care youth in education/employment, psychological well-being, and physical health. Youth who had the support of a mentor also demonstrated a decreased participation in unhealthy behaviors, such as unprotected sexual activity, alcohol and substance abuse, and delinquent activities.
This paper discusses the positive and negative relationship experiences faced by children in foster care and adoptive placements. Positive relationships can aid children in healthy development, but negative relationships can lead to educational, behavioral, and mental health problems for adopted and foster youth. Negative relationship experiences can also impact romantic relationships later in life. Romantic relationship formation can have important implications for the adjustment of youth. Therefore, research should examine whether at-risk groups are experiencing positive relationship experiences during adolescence and emerging adulthood. Emerging adulthood is the developmental period from the late teens through the twenties, focusing on the ages 18 to 25 years. This period of development is important because it is marked by identity exploration.
Qualitative exploration of relationships with important non-parental adults in the lives of youth in foster care
Foster youth are at risk of poor adult outcomes. Research on the role of mentoring relationships for this population suggests the value of strategies that increase their access to adult sources of support, both while in foster care and as they reach adulthood. Among studies of general population youth, programs that seek to establish mentoring relationships between participating youth and non-parental adult volunteers have been shown to be both effective and potentially cost-effective in promoting positive youth outcomes. Specific types of support that may mediate such improvements include provisions of guidance and advice, emotional support, role-modeling, and tangible/instrumental assistance
The need for connection and support during the transition to adulthood is incredibly important.
I am thankful that I have forever connections, people who I will always be able to call on for help. All young people need these connections to successfully transition to adulthood.
“The efforts [in preparing youths] have historically been focused on skill building—how to budget money or buy food, for instance—but research shows that the most important predicator of success in youths who are aging out is not skills but relationships. Skills are important, but the youths who are most successful in aging out of foster care are those that have a caring adult in their life. There are mentorship programs that extend beyond the age of the system. These types of programs might be part of the solution—finding ways to connect and stay involved with youths even after they age out. We need to look for ways to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships.”
A caring and well-trained adult can inspire and guide a youth in foster care to pursue a productive future and reach his or her full potential. One study found that after a year in a quality mentoring program, youth in foster care exhibited improved social skills, were more able to trust adults, and had greater self-esteem. Mentoring programs can also help youth overcome the challenges of the many transitions they have endured by providing consistent, caring support and modeling of important life skills. “When youth [in foster care] are able to form close and trusting relationships with caring adults . . . who act as gatekeepers for their futures, they can be effectively buffered from the stresses and disorder of their own families and the disruption of shifting foster care arrangements.”
Moving Away from the Independent Living
Related to the goal of achieving relational and formally recognized permanency for all older youths is the recommendation that child welfare jurisdictions move away from independent living models and toward interdependent living programming. Historically, child welfare systems have primarily invested their resources in preparing older youths to live independently, though we know that youths exiting foster care independently struggle and don’t have good outcomes. Youths need strong social supportive networks to thrive, and current research shows that independent living programs are ineffective in increasing and solidifying social supports for older youth aging out of foster care…
Aging out of foster care: The experiences of former foster youth who successfully navigated this transition
The period of life known as emerging adulthood presents opportunities because youth are often relatively free from parental supervision, yet not fully committed to family and work responsibilities. Emerging adults have the freedom to make their own decisions while maintaining parental support, if needed, due to their relative freedom from parental oversight while not yet firmly immersed in their adult roles. Conversely, many foster-care youth are expected to be living independently upon reaching their 18th birthday suggested that youth aging out of foster care are more vulnerable than other young adults due to their increased freedom from the frequent lack of family connections and/or adult support. The lack of family connections is a key aspect of the vulnerability of this population of youth. Emerging adults not raised in foster care often leave their families by choice, while still maintaining a connection. Youth aging out of foster care are often forced to leave care and family solely due to their age, immediately expected to live on their own upon reaching their 18th birthday.
Other youth in foster care can be a great resource for youth in foster care in your charge. Their understanding of each other’s challenges is invaluable and provides the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their situation.
A new focus should be placed on “interdependent living”. This will provide youth with a since of community and improve their outcomes. A community approach will help youth in their socialization skills.
“As we reflect on the role of caring in young people’s lives, what becomes clear is that youths need to grow up in a world infused with and organized by care… To become the caring citizens we need them to be, young people need to have made real the vision of the interdependent lives organized around public, as well as private, caregiving responsibilities… They must see care made the serious work of public life, rather than a private lifestyle choice. They must grow up in a community where they can both expect the constancy and trust of caring and know that such responsibility will be expected of them.”
Rauner, Diana Mendley: They Still Pick Me Up When I Fail