Support can support the mental health of young people with a history of out-of-home care.

Evans, R., Katz, C. C., Fulginiti, A., & Taussig, H. (2022). Sources and Types of Social Supports and Their Association with Mental Health Symptoms and Life Satisfaction among Young Adults with a History of Out-of-Home Care. Children, 9(4), 520. 

https://doi.org/10.3390/children9040520

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Young adults with a history of out-of-home care experience higher levels of mental illness.
  • Although social support is commonly perceived to be a protective factor for life satisfaction and mental health outcomes, there’s a lack of research that examines the associations between support sources, support types, life satisfaction, and mental health.
  • This study assesses sources and types of support that youth receive and how they are associated with their life satisfaction and mental health symptoms.
  • While the sample received support from their family, friends, and other loved ones (particularly informational support), less than half of them received stable material support.
  • Findings indicate that having sufficient material and informational support correlated with fewer mental health symptoms.
  • Research, policies, and practices need to explore how they can continue to provide continuity for young people’s social networks.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Young adults with a history of out-of-home care report poorer mental health and life satisfaction compared to non-care-experienced peers. Social support is a known protective factor for mental health. There is limited evidence, however, on the relationship between sources (e.g., family members) and types (e.g., information) of social support and mental health symptoms and life satisfaction in this population. Reporting cross-sectional survey data from 215 young adults aged 18–22 years with a history of out-of-home care, the current study conducted descriptive, bivariate, and linear regression analysis to examine the different sources and types of support young adults receive and their relation to mental health symptoms and life satisfaction. Participants had high levels of support from family members, friends, and other adults. Most participants had informational support, but less than half had consistent material support. Regression analyses demonstrated that having enough informational and material support were associated with fewer mental health symptoms. Having family support and material support were associated with greater life satisfaction. Further longitudinal research is needed to understand the trajectory between social supports and mental health functioning and life satisfaction.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The present study examined the different sources and types of social supports available to young adults in out-of-home care. It further explored the extent to which these supports are associated with mental health symptoms and life satisfaction. Participants reported having a high number of social supports available to them, which included family members, good friends, and other adults. The majority of participants maintained that they could almost always or always count on family members and friends. This high prevalence of support availability runs counter to much of the existing evidence-base, which indicates that this population experiences a paucity of supports [20–22 ]. However, it does resonate with findings from other studies, which suggest that care-experienced young people derive support from a range of different sources [19,22,34–37].

A central finding from the study, and as reported in the wider evidence-base, is the protective role of family members for mental health and life satisfaction [24 – 26 ,41]. The availability of support from an adult family member was associated with fewer mental health symptoms and higher life satisfaction. Moreover, this support was related to life satisfaction over and above other types and sources of support. Notably, when identifying the specific family member, they are most likely to turn to for support, a third of participants cited a birth parent. Given the complexity of relationships that individuals in care can have with their biological parents [ 31 –33 ], and the fact that they are less likely to receive parental support than peers in the general population [30], it is important to recognize the potential need for biological families to be integrated into young adults’ supportive social networks. However, there are risks of integration that need to be carefully attended to, such as the potential for trauma rearousal [42,43].

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