Title

The Importance of Social Network Supports for Foster Youth in High School

First Presenter's Institution

University of Miami

Second Presenter's Institution

University of Miami

Third Presenter's Institution

University of Miami School of Law

Fourth Presenter's Institution

NA

Fifth Presenter's Institution

NA

Location

Session 7 (Plimsoll)

Strand #1

Family & Community

Relevance

The presentation is focused on the development and role of social network support in the lives of foster youth. It is based on social network mapping data and youth perspectives of social supports. The findings are related to the Family and Community strand.

Brief Program Description

This study explores how foster care experiences can impact social networks for youth. We conducted support network mapping with high school youth in foster care who participated in a college readiness transition program. Findings offer critical information for social service and education practitioners for understanding barriers and assets of foster care in developing and sustaining strong social support networks.

Summary

While research has documented poor outcomes for youth who have aged out of foster care, Werner (1989) proposed a strengths-based shift in focus on protective factors indicating the potential for youths’ life outcomes to improve if protective factors are fostered throughout time in care. One such protective factor includes the development of and sustained networks of social supports. Since youth in foster care experience disruptive traumatic events due to displacement of their previous support systems and into new territories of care, it is critical to identify the individuals within a youth’s network and the supports received to better understand the barriers and opportunities youth face in developing these much-needed support systems.

In this study, the social network assessment instrument (Blakeslee, 2015) was used to better understand the support networks of youth participants in a college-readiness program aimed at increasing graduation rates and post-secondary transitions for youth in foster care. This measure allows for examination of the changes in the perceived quantity and quality of youth social relationships over time. Specifically, we quantitatively examined and compared the number of individuals who provided consistent support to the youth (network size), the types of support youth were provided (emotional, information, concrete), the frequency of support given (daily, weekly, monthly), and the perceived strength of support (not close, close, very close) among participants in both baseline summer 1 and then in summer 2 (after 9thgrade).

Participants in this study include 16 foster care youth of whom 72% percent identified as Black/African American while the remaining 28 % of youth identified as Hispanic. Twenty-six percent of the youth are served by special education. Thirteen percent of the students are designated as English Language Learners.

Using descriptive statistics, comparisons were made between Summer 1 results (baseline) and Summer 2 results on the social network assessment instrument (SNA). We then probed youth perspectives of social network supports and qualitatively coded interview responses. Youth identified a consistent focus on the family support regardless of their living arrangement. Youth also identified particular supports by school and program personnel (teachers, counselors, coaches)

Evidence

Across the nation, there is an urgent need to address the considerable challenges faced by foster youth as they transition out of care. Few programs exist to mitigate these challenges and even fewer empirical studies have examined the process and/or effectiveness of such initiatives (Reilly, 2003). In response to some of these challenges faced, transition support programs such as First Star Academy emerge as a strengths-based intervention to target students in foster care. This study explicitly examines the development of social networks and youth perspectives on effective network supports. As evidenced by research, these supports are often deficient for youth in foster care, creating a unique opportunity to explore and identify key social network information that may aid child welfare services, schools, families and communities at large in increasing the development of and sustainability of strong social networks in efforts to positively impact life outcomes for these vulnerable youth.

Despite home and school movements creating stressful situations that can cause social networks to thin (Collins, 2001), participation in support programs and in new educational settings (such as new schools or at the university during the summer) can shift the characteristics of adolescents’ social networks (Feld, Suitor, & Hoegh, 2007)and subsequently, the frequency of support received. This study contributes to the limited research on the social networks of youth in foster care and their participation in programs designed to increase high school graduation rates and post-secondary outcomes.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Deborah Perez, M.S., is a PhD student and research associate at the University of Miami in the Teaching and Learning Department. With a focus in Special Education, her research interests include using a community-based participatory action approach to further gain knowledge regarding systems change theory, interventions, policy advocacy, and critical social change, to improve the health and quality of life for all communities. As a former foster care youth herself, Deborah is primarily dedicated to providing access and care to marginalized youth using an Emic perspective in pursuit of advancing educational research.

Wendy Cavendish, PhD, is a teacher educator with 20 years experience working with district schools on programs to facilitate more equitable outcomes for marginalized students. Her research is focused on systems of transition.

Kele Stewart, JD, is a clinical professor in the University of Miami School of Law whose legal clinic advocates on behalf of youth in foster care and whose academic research focuses on policies at the intersection of education and child welfare.

Keyword Descriptors

Social Networks, Foster Youth

Presentation Year

March 2020

Start Date

3-10-2020 2:45 PM

End Date

3-10-2020 4:00 PM

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Mar 10th, 2:45 PM Mar 10th, 4:00 PM

The Importance of Social Network Supports for Foster Youth in High School

Session 7 (Plimsoll)

This study explores how foster care experiences can impact social networks for youth. We conducted support network mapping with high school youth in foster care who participated in a college readiness transition program. Findings offer critical information for social service and education practitioners for understanding barriers and assets of foster care in developing and sustaining strong social support networks.