Approximately 500,000 youth in the United States are in the foster care system, of those youth, 50-75% experience either behavioral or social-emotional problems as well as being at risk for a myriad of other negative outcomes (Landsverk, Burns, Stambaugh, & Reutz, 2009). It is believe that the same interventions that aim to help at-risk youth would be beneficial to youth in foster care, as well, as they frequently face similar challenges. Social skills training has been shown to be effective in helping youth with high levels of antisocial or aggressive behaviors (Farrell et al., 2003), which can be found with youth in foster care (Kaplan et al., 2009). Youth in foster care have also been shown to struggle with low social competence (Landsverk et al., 2009). Thus, Williams suggests that youth in foster care should be supported through a combination of mentoring and social skills training.
What makes up social skills: (Stephens, 1978)
1) Self-related: accepting consequences, ethical behavior, expressing feelings, positive attitude toward self, responsible behavior, and self-care
2) Environmental behaviors: care for environment, dealing with emergencies, lunchroom behavior
3) Task-related behaviors: asking and answering questions, attending behavior, classroom discussion, completing tasks, following directions, group activities, independent work, on-task behavior, performing before others, quality of work
4) Interpersonal behaviors: accepting authority, coping with conflict, gaining attention, greeting others, helping others, making conversation, organized play, positive attitude toward others
Social skills training has also been shown to influence academic outcomes, which may be particularly helpful as youth in foster care are more likely to face learning difficulties and have academic issues (e.g., Berzin, 2010; Gramkowski et al., 2009; Kaplan et al., 2009).
There is a lack of research examining the promotion of positive youth development in preventing negative outcomes for youth in foster care; thus, Williams offers the following recommendations.
– First, Williams feels that there must be a shift to recognizing that the current way in which the child welfare system operates is failing a significant number of youth
- an increased focus on discharge and on long-term after-care outcomes is necessary
- success should be measured not just by immediate safety of a child, but more long-term goals such as high school graduation, employment, presence of healthy social relationships, and the absence of relying on public subsidies
- The author promotes mentoring as a tool to improve social skills in foster care youth:
- A benefit of mentoring has been the development of social skills in youth (i.e., Cheng et al., 2008)
- Mentors provide positive learning and social modeling experiences for youth (Bandura, 1965; Hamilton & Hamilton, 1990)
- ~ 24,000 youth age out of the child welfare system every year (Fowler et al., 2009), group mentoring in which youth who’ve faced similar past and likely future challenges could provide a supportive environment to help with a smoother transition to independent care
- There are many existing programs for high-risk youth (i.e., “I Can Problem Solve (ICPS)”) that would seem beneficial for youth in foster care, however Williams argues that a shift must come from policymakers.
Overall, Williams suggests that forward-thinking, and outcome-based programs such as mentoring programs with a focus on social skills development “could serve as a catalyst for a new era of child welfare practice and policy, leading to better outcomes for a very vulnerable population of children and youth.”