Assessing the Effects of Foster Care | Findings from the Casey National Alumni Study

Authors: Peter J. Pecora, Ph.D., Jason Williams, M.S., Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., A. Chris Downs, Ph.D., Kirk O’Brien, Ph.D., Eva Hiripi, M.A., and Sarah Morello, B.S.

The Casey National Alumni Study posed these questions:

  • How are maltreated youth placed in Casey foster care faring as adults? Do they differ from other adults with regard to functioning status?
  • Are there key factors or program components—such as placement stability, individual mental health services, group work, employment training, and employment experience—that are linked particularly with better foster care alumni functioning?

The high school graduation rates and employment rates were positive for many alumni. This occurred despite many placement changes (the rate of which slowed significantly when youth were placed with Casey).

A key finding involves education. Research has shown that education is a leading indicator of successful youth development and adult self-sufficiency.

For foster youth as well, educational outcomes—such as high school graduation, literacy/basic reading skills, taking high school courses necessary for college admission, and post-secondary education or job training—are some of the best indicators of future well-being and successful transition to adulthood.

Factors predictive of success as adults

Although many of the general outcomes were positive, they depended on characteristics of children and services. The following characteristics together predicted the level of success of an alumnus at the time they were interviewed for the study (a composite of educational attainment, income, mental and physical health, and relationship satisfaction):

  • Life skills preparation
  • Completing a high school diploma or GED before leaving care
  • Scholarships for college or job training
  • Male gender
  • Participation in clubs and organizations for youth while in foster care
  • Less positive parenting by their last foster mother
  • Not being homeless within a year of leaving care
  • Minimized academic problems (as indicated by use of tutoring services in their last foster home)
  • Minimized use of alcohol or drugs (as indicated by use of treatment services near the end of their time in foster care).

Assessing the Effects of Foster Care

The National Alumni Study’s final report, Assessing the Effects of Foster Care, presents data collected from case records for 1609 alumni (1087 of whom were interviewed) who had been in the care of Casey Family Programs between 1968 and 1998. Findings detail the life experiences, educational achievements, and current functioning of these alumni.

A follow-up report focuses on the mental health outcomes of the National Alumni Study. Mental Health Outcomes reveals that foster care alumni are experiencing mental health illnesses at rates higher than those of the general population.

Finally in 2007 special analyses of the Casey National Alumni Study were conducted to examine the long-term mental health, education and employment outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) alumni of foster care. This brief report summarizes the demographics, risk factors, foster care experiences and outcomes for 243 AI/AN alumni and a comparison group of 574 white alumni.

For researchers and others interested in background materials for the alumni studies, Casey is pleased to make available the projects’ major reports, instruments, and supplemental information.