Okpych, N. J., Park, S., Powers, J., Harty, J. S., & Courtney, M. E. (2023). Relationships That Persist and Protect: The Role of Enduring Relationships on Early-Adult Outcomes among Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care. Social Service Review, 97(4), 000-000.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study

The transition period from foster care to young adulthood is crucial for young people who were in foster care, and supportive relationships are known to play a significant role during this phase. However, youth in foster care often face challenges as they cycle through multiple placements, losing ties with people and experiencing a lack of stability and control. This study focuses on the importance of enduring relationships for youth transitioning from foster care to early adulthood. Researchers aimed to investigate the prevalence, characteristics, and impact of enduring relationships, which were defined as long-standing connections that offer support.

Key Findings:

  • In the study, about 11% of all support nominees were classified as enduring relationships, while 53% were categorized as faded relationships (nominees at age 17 but not at 21), and 36% were emerged relationships (nominees at age 21 but not at 17).
  • Approximately 48% of all youth in the study had at least one enduring relationship, with most having only one such relationship. Enduring relationships with biological family members or family-like individuals were the most common (30%), followed by peers (11%), foster or adoptive parents, and legal guardians (9%).
  • Enduring relationships were found to provide more types of social support compared to other relationship groups, with about 65% of enduring relationships offering two or three types of support.
  • Certain factors influenced the likelihood of having an enduring relationship, such as age at entry into foster care, time spent in extended foster care, and having a history of incarceration.
  • Enduring relationships were associated with a decreased risk of economic hardships, homelessness, and food insecurity after exiting foster care. However, they were not significantly associated with advancement outcomes like education and employment.

Implications for Mentoring

The findings of this study highlight the significance of enduring relationships for transition-age youth in the child welfare system. Having an enduring relationship can substantially benefit youth as they navigate the challenges of leaving care, particularly in reducing food and economic hardships and avoiding homelessness, which are common among youth exiting care. The study reveals that approximately 48% of youth in the sample had an enduring relationship, while the remaining 52% were at a greater risk of facing multiple hardships during their transition to adulthood. Notably, racially minoritized youth, such as Black and Native American or Alaskan Native youth, were less likely to have enduring relationships, and this calls for urgent action and partnership with these communities to address the disparities. Child welfare agencies must prioritize relational permanence alongside legal permanence and independent living skills, and implement policies and practices that actively engage youth in decisions about their support networks. Creating enduring relationships for all youth in care should be a central goal, and it requires a culture and practice shift in the child welfare system. By fostering enduring relationships and supporting youth in building social support networks that continue beyond their time in foster care, we can positively impact their long-term outcomes and well-being.

To access read the entire study, click here.