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Open Access Publications from the University of California

It's Personal: The Tangible and In(tangible) and of Aging Out of Foster Care Into Adulthood

  • Author(s): Lee, Chris
  • Advisor(s): Duerr Berrick, Jill
  • et al.

Close to 20,000 youth age out of foster care into early adulthood every year, hard pressed to achieve independence at an accelerated pace. Most current state policies require youth to leave foster care between ages 18 to 21, leading to considerably more compressed transition periods than what is typically found among the general population. Though not true of all youth who age out of care, low levels of educational attainment, great economic and housing instability, and generally poor adjustment is well documented among former foster youth in adulthood. In response, legislative efforts have targeted the needs of older youth in foster care for over three decades, primarily focused on teaching youth practical skills for independent living. However, the efficacy of existing independent living skills programs is unclear, resulting in a lack of clarity regarding "what works" in supporting youth during their transition to adulthood. "Soft" resources and skills, such as adult identity and level of personal agency, are also often missing from living skills programs and may be just as important in facilitating stable transitions and nurturing readiness to take on the challenges of adulthood.

This study investigated transitions to adulthood among youth who aged out of foster care in California. The study sought to move beyond previous research by exploring the utility of a theoretical framework, Côté's identity capital model, for explaining differential pathways to adulthood among youth aging out of care. The first study question examined housing pathways taken by youth after aging out of care, following commonly used models in demographic analyses of pathways in transitions to adulthood. The three remaining research questions focused more specifically on the identity capital model, and explored constructs of adult identity and agency in relation to youth functioning after exiting the foster care system.

Similar to patterns found among youth in the general population, more than a few youth in the study sample relied on supportive relatives or non-related adults for housing during their transition to adulthood. Many youth in the sample also lived in their own place, and in fact, this was the most common housing status observed among the study sample, by far. Furthermore, very few youth left and returned to a relative home or transitional housing, suggesting youth accessed these housing safety nets on a limited basis. Cronbach's alpha estimates and confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) indicated that previously validated scales used to measure adult identity and agency had low reliability and validity in use with the current study sample. Similarly, CFA goodness-of-fit tests indicated a poor fit of model constructs and indicators to data of the current study sample.

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