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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Paul A. Toro

Abstract

LONGITUDINAL OUTCOMES OF YOUTH WHO AGE OUT OF FOSTER CARE

by

TEGAN LESPERANCE

May 2018

Advisor: Dr. Paul Toro

Major: Psychology (Clinical)

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Each year in America, between 20,000 and 30,000 youths reach an age, typically 18 years, when they must exit the foster care system due to age restrictions, in a process referred to as aging out (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016). These youths disproportionately experience a host of negative outcomes, including high rates of homelessness and precarious housing, high levels of psychological distress and victimization, increased risk of substance abuse, lower wages, increased sexual risk taking, and poorer educational attainment when compared to their same-age peers (Courtney & Heuring, 2005; Keller, Cusick, & Courtney, 2007; Masten, Obradovic, & Burt, 2006).

The current study followed 57 aged out youths during an 8-year period following their aging out from foster care in Metro Detroit. The sample was representative of the larger aged-out population in the area. Two interviews were conducted via phone, one at 3.5 years post-foster care exit and another at 8.28 years, on average. Variables assessed included demographic information, foster care case information, psychological distress, deviance, lifetime victimization, substance abuse/dependence, and risky sexual behaviors, as well as housing, educational, and employment outcomes.

The present study aimed to describe a representative sample of aged-out former foster youth throughout emerging adulthood using retrospective longitudinal data and to examine possible predictors of negative outcomes among former foster youth. Results suggest decreases in time spent homeless and deviant behaviors, and increases in income from employment over time. Additionally, no change in risky sexual behaviors, psychological distress, or victimization was found, indicating sources of persistent difficulties among aged out youth. Multivariate predictors of outcomes were largely nonsignificant, likely due to low-sample size. However, race was found to predict lower educational attainment at the second interview, and victimization was found to predict multiple negative outcomes across both follow-up periods. The latter highlights the importance of trauma-informed interventions and policies. Additionally, suggestions for future research and policy implications are explored.

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