Current Projects

The Experiences of Foster Youth During COVID-19

Young adults aging out of foster care and those who have recently aged out are among the most marginalized groups in this country. They experience countless hardships when they transition from foster care to adulthood on their own. With the unprecedented additional challenges of dealing with COVID19, these young people are among those bearing the heaviest burden of this pandemic. In response to the COVID19 crisis, the Field Center launched an online survey study to assess how older youth in foster care and those who recently aged out of foster care are faring with COVID19 in the key areas of basic needs, education, employment, finances, personal connections, and health/mental health. By gaining a clearer picture of these burdens, stakeholders will be better able to advocate for the needs of these young people. The study provides practitioners, policymakers and advocates with much-needed data and makes recommendations for a national response to COVID19 as it affects older youth in foster care and those aged out of foster care.

To view a one-page brief from this study, click here.

To view the full report, click here.

To view the March 2020 guide “Responding to COVID 19: How You Can Support Older Youth in Pennsylvania who are Experiencing Homelessness or Have Experience in Foster Care,” click here.

The short video below highlights our major findings and recommendations.

Aging Out During COVID from Kindea Labs on Vimeo.

“I Was Already Broke: Now I Feel Broken”: Amplifying the Voices of Youth Experiencing & Aged Out of Foster Care During COVID 19 & Its Impact on Mental Health

Disasters, including disease outbreaks like COVID-19, share a common potential for significant ecological and psychosocial disruption at the individual, community, and societal levels. These disasters are especially harmful to members of social groups in vulnerable situations, including youth in foster care and those who have recently exited care. Our 2020 study on the experiences of older youth in and aged out of foster care during COVID-19 showed that more than half of the participants screened positive for symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. There is also a mental health disparity between adults with and without experiences in foster care. Improved mental health support for youth with foster care experiences is needed. Through a new partnership with The Center for High Impact Philanthropy, we are amplifying the voices of these young people to raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and how stakeholders can help. We are also leveraging the expertise of these young people to provide insight about how donors can better intervene to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 now and disasters in the future. We hope that this work raises public awareness about this issue and helps to inform future crisis philanthropy efforts so that the next time disaster strikes, stakeholders are better prepared to meaningfully provide support for these young people.

Evaluation of Agape Children’s Ministry Family Strengthening Program

In Kenya, the number of street-involved children continues to grow, with estimates as high as hundreds of thousands. Despite various efforts, the majority of those who receive services return to the streets. Through a Research Challenge Grant with the CAFO Center on Applied Research For Vulnerable Children and Families, Managing Faculty Director Dr. Johanna Greeson was selected to evaluate Agape Children’s Ministry’s Family Strengthening Program, which aims to keep families together following reintegration of street-involved children and youth. Field Center researchers will evaluate whether participation in the Family Strengthening Program leads to improved family functioning and increases the likelihood that the family remains intact following reintegration. The Field Center will provide consultation and recommendations to Agape Children’s Ministry during the evaluation, and will seek to disseminate findings from this study in global publications to inform best practices in other nations.

Foster Care to College (FC2C): Fostering Success for the Future

Research tells us that 70% of foster youth aspire to go to college, yet they attend at less than half the rate of their peers, and most who do attend do not make it past their first year. As every year of education mitigates poor outcomes, reducing the likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy, the Field Center strives to make higher education more accessible and successful for youth leaving the foster care system. Building on the success of the Field Center’s 2013 colloquium, Foster Care to College: Strategies for Success, the Field Center is engaging in a menu of FC2C activities, including convening a work group of community and statewide stakeholders, conducting research, and advocating for legislative and policy change, both on local and national levels.

The Field Center is currently supporting numerous colleges and universities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the development and operation of campus-based support programs for foster youth. These schools currently have or have committed to enhance programming providing financial, academic, and other types of supports to help former foster youth succeed in college. A list of Campus-Based Support Programs is available in the 2021 Campus Programming Directory for Foster Youth.

To be added to the mailing list to receive the Foster Care to College Newsletter and stay informed about issues related to foster youth and higher education across Pennsylvania, email swasch@upenn.edu.

Click here to view Foster Care to College event and training videos.

Click here to view the Foster Care to College Resource Library.

Improving Higher Education Outcomes of Foster Youth in Texas

The majority of foster youth want to go to college. However, in Texas, only 3.5% of youth who have experienced foster care achieve any post-secondary credential by the age of 24. Fortunately, there is a state-wide movement to develop support services on college campuses for students who have experienced foster care. In 2015, Texas demonstrated a commitment to this effort by passing legislation requiring all public colleges and universities to appoint a liaison to assist foster care alumni (FCA) on their campuses. Additionally, several campuses have created more comprehensive campus support programs offering a broad array of services. Texas policies and programs have garnered national attention. However, these efforts have not been evaluated at the state level. For example, in Texas we do not know if colleges and universities have complied with the legislation to appoint a liaison, whether liaisons have any training or experience working with FCA, and what, if any, services they provide. For the small number of campuses that have developed broader campus support programs, it is unclear how those programs are funded, what they offer, and whether they have fidelity to existing conceptual frameworks for supporting FCA in higher education. Finally, we do not have rigorous evaluation data on whether these types of initiatives have improved academic outcomes, to what degree, and which practices are most/least effective. The Field Center is collaborating with researchers from Texas State University, North Carolina Central University, Northeastern State University, and the Texas Alliance for Child and Family Services to conduct a study to address these issues.

Penn Futures: Preparing Leaders in Child Welfare and Child Advocacy

The Penn Futures Project, an ambitious initiative led by three professional schools at the University of Pennsylvania, aims to collaboratively address pressing social issues that affect Philadelphia’s most vulnerable young people and their families. For this project, Faculty representing the University of Pennsylvania’s schools of Nursing, Education, Social Policy and Practice, Law, Medicine and Arts and Sciences are working to develop a university-community partnership model for a certificate program in child and family advocacy. This initiative specifically addresses critical issues facing children and families in the United States and the fragmented service system designed to provide for their care.

The future of graduate education in child well-being requires specialized advanced degrees that are defined by interprofessional training and education. Currently, professionals who serve children and families train largely in isolation from one another, and no universities have programs in which faculty involved in the health, welfare, and educational worlds of children intersect at the level of graduate training. This innovative graduate cross-professional training certificate program in child welfare and child advocacy will improve interdisciplinary education at Penn and child advocacy work in Philadelphia and nationally. Students who complete this certificate will have gained the skills, knowledge, ability, and confidence to break down system silos to achieve child safety, permanency and well-being. Disrupting the current existing silos in graduate education will result in a workforce able to integrate knowledge across disciplines and improve services for children, families, and communities, with the ultimate goals of ending child abuse and neglect and improving outcomes for families.

Click here to learn more about Penn Futures.