The Power of Mentoring and Employment Assistance for Youth in Foster Care

Leathers, S., Holtschneider, C., Ludington, M., Ross, E. V., & Barnett, J. L. (2023). Mentoring, Employment Assistance, and Enhanced Staff Outreach for Older Youth in Care: Outcomes from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Children and Youth Services Review, 107095.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study

This study investigated the effectiveness of the Adult Connections Team (ACT), an enhanced services intervention designed to support youth transitioning out of foster care. The researchers addressed the significant challenges faced by older adolescents leaving foster care, such as homelessness, unemployment, low educational attainment, and involvement in the criminal justice system. The ACT intervention provided mentoring with the focus of providing job readiness and peer building connections among vulnerable youth in care. The study used a randomized controlled design to evaluate the effects of the intervention, and the outcomes of interest included employment, educational enrollment, delinquency, arrests, and mental health. The study contributes valuable insights into developing effective services for youth aging out of foster care and recognizes the importance of stable adult relationships and support systems in facilitating positive transitions to adulthood.

Key Findings:

  • Youth in the enhanced services condition had significantly fewer arrests, lower delinquency, and increased hours of employment compared to the control group. 
  • By adjusting the analysis the researchers were able to confirm the impact of enhanced services on key outcomes after controlling for factors like age, gender, and baseline variables.
  • The intervention did not affect social support, depression levels, or educational outcomes, suggesting the need for further research to optimize service models for older youth in care.
  • In particular, intended analysis to explore the role of social support as a mediator of the effects of the intervention was incomplete due to similar support levels between groups.
  • The study suggests that consistent adult contacts through mentoring and outreach could be crucial components of effective service models for youth in care, but more research is needed to understand the active elements supporting these outcomes.

Implications for Mentoring

The study highlights the need to develop impactful services for youth exiting out-of-home care after age 18. These findings suggest providing access to mentoring, job readiness training, and employment assistance, along with increased staff outreach, can significantly reduce delinquency and arrest rates while increasing employment hours for these young individuals. Additionally, although the study did not find an impact on social support, it did note that older youth in care are often able to find social support on their own from a variety of sources. In terms of the lack of an effect on depression levels and educational outcomes the authors argued that this shows there is a need to include more targeted mental health treatment and educational supports/programs that are more intentionally designed to increase enrollment in future enhanced services interventions. Overall though this study shows that consistent adult outreach and mentoring are crucial elements for creating effective service models with positive outcomes. Still further research is needed to understand the specific components that drive these positive effects. In summary, the findings underscore the potential long-term benefits of investing in comprehensive services for older youth in care, particularly Black and urban youth at high risk for unemployment and involvement in the criminal system.

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