Care and connections: Bridging relational gaps for foster youths

In the United States, more than 20,000 youths “age out” of foster care each year. But leaving foster care presents its own challenges. Only 55 percent of former foster youths report having a high school diploma or GED by the time they’re 19, compared with 87 percent of their peers in the population sample.

Significant efforts are made by policymakers at all levels to improve educational, social and economic outcomes for this at-risk group, with mixed results.

One way to help improve the outcomes of foster youths may be to focus on relationship-building skills. Research suggests that healthy and supportive relationships improve life chances for foster youth. But so far there have been relatively few attempts to build insights into these programs and practice.

In “Care and connections: Bridging relational gaps for foster youths” (PDF), Ramona Denby-Brinson, Efren Gomez, and Richard V. Reeves explore the steep challenges of implementing and evaluating relationship-based interventions in child welfare.

The authors examine the experience of recent programs that aimed to increase relationship-building skills for youths transitioning out of foster care. They find four important lessons for policymakers and researchers moving forward.

  1. Child welfare agencies should measure youths’ relational capacities to help reinforce the importance of foster youths’ relational needs for front-line workers.
  2. Given the transient nature of the living conditions of foster youths, increasing the number of service providers may be counterproductive and overwhelming for foster youths. Instead, it is important to design relationship-based interventions with care.
  3. Relationship-based interventions should seek to tailor services to the unique needs of each youth.
  4. The support of all pertinent parties involved in a youth’s case, even nontraditional partners, is important to help foster youths reinforce and practice their relationship skills in different environments.

The authors conclude that “Helping foster youths develop relational skills necessary for strong and positive interactions with others underpins efforts to improve outcomes across a range of areas, including in education, employment, and family formation.”

Read the full paper here.

Funding for the publication of this paper was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. The contents of this paper do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the funders.

Other than the aforementioned, the authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person for this paper or from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this paper. They are currently not officers, directors, or board members of any organization with an interest in this paper. No outside party had the right to review this paper prior to circulation.