Each year, approximately 24,000 youth age-out of foster care on their own. Many of these youth begin independent adult life with little or no help from family, few community connections and virtually no financial resources. A significant percentage of foster youth (approximately 40%) experience a disability and few are prepared for the sudden entry into adulthood-with little support-that emancipated foster youth frequently experience. The troubling transition outcomes of foster youth exiting care have received national attention and in 1999 the Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) doubled the federal money states receive to provide foster youth with independent living services. Unfortunately however, there have been no randomized or quasi- controlled studies evaluating the effectiveness of services for youth exiting foster care. In contrast, practices for improving the transition outcomes of youth with disabilities have been well studied and self determination enhancement has surfaced as one of the most recognized factors associated with improved adult outcomes. To gather preliminary data on the feasibility of implementing a self-determination enhancement intervention with youth in foster care, and the potential efficacy it has on transition outcomes for this group of at-risk youth, a pilot study using a 2 groups X 3 repeated measures design was conducted in Oregon (entitled My Life). Data from the initial study reveal that youth in the intervention group experienced increases in self-determination, rates of employment, involvement in transition planning and overall quality of life. Given these positive findings, the purpose of the current study is to implement a full-scale efficacy trial of the My Life program. Conducted in partnership with the Oregon DHS Foster Care Program, the impact of the intervention will be being evaluated with a randomized experimental longitudinal design. Two hundred and ten youth, ages 16.5-17.5, will be enrolled in 3 waves, and randomly assigned to either a comparison group that receives typical foster care services or to a treatment group that participates in the key elements of the model, including instruction in self-determination skills, support in leading their own coordinated inter-agency transition planning meetings, and participation in workshops with mentors. Outcomes, including youth self-determination, quality of life, employment, mental health, educational achievement and independent living, are assessed pre- intervention, at the conclusion of intervention, and at 12 months post-intervention. The proposed study will provide important information on the efficacy of the model for all youth exiting the foster care system, yielding unequivocal data on whether enhanced self-determination mediates, at least partially, various outcome areas, including mental health, educational achievement, employment, independent living, and quality of life;evaluating the effect of special education status, gender, and race as moderating influences on the impact of the intervention. Foster care experiences, such as trauma and placement instability, will be considered as covariates;direct effects of the intervention on these key foster care experiences will also be explored.

Public Health Relevance

Each year, in the Unites States, approximately 24,000 youth age out of foster care, typically when they reach the age of 18. An additional 12,000 adolescents runaway from their foster care placements each year and are essentially living on their own. Consequences of the instant adulthood emancipated youth experience can be seen in multiple studies documenting that they are at significant risk for poor transition outcomes, such as unemployment, homelessness, and educational failure. It is anticipated that the proposed study will substantiate the efficacy of a self-determination enhancement intervention for improving the transition outcomes of youth in foster care.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Haverkos, Lynne
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Portland State University
Schools of Social Work
United States
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Powers, Laurie E; Fullerton, Ann; Schmidt, Jessica et al. (2018) Perspectives of Youth in Foster Care on Essential Ingredients for Promoting Self-determination and Successful Transition to Adult Life: My Life Model. Child Youth Serv Rev 86:277-286
Schmidt, Jessica; Dubey, Shanti; Dalton, Larry et al. (2015) Who Am I? Who Do You Think I Am? Stability of Racial/Ethnic Self-Identification among Youth in Foster Care and Concordance with Agency Categorization. Child Youth Serv Rev 56:61-67
Schmidt, Jessica; Cunningham, Miranda; Dalton, Lawrence D et al. (2013) Assessing Restrictiveness: A Closer Look at the Foster Care Placements and Perceptions of Youth With and Without Disabilities Aging Out of Care. J Public Child Welf 7:586-609
Blakeslee, Jennifer E; Quest, A Del; Powers, Jennifer et al. (2013) Reaching everyone: Promoting the inclusion of youth with disabilities in evaluating foster care outcomes. Child Youth Serv Rev 35: