Theses Doctoral

Empowering Foster Care Youth

Batista, Tara

This study explores various youth empowerment programs for young people aging out of foster care in the U.S. Youth Empowerment Programs (YEPs) are interventions that encourage youth to make meaningful decisions about program design, implementation, and/or evaluation. This dissertation employed three methods to contribute to the evidence-base on the effect of YEPs for youth aging out of foster care: a qualitative historical study, a comprehensive literature review, and a quantitative cross-sectional survey that utilized a contemporaneous comparison group.
The historical study examined the different program aspects of the Children's Aid Society (CAS) to see if there were any empowering parts. CAS was the precursor to the modern day foster care system in the U.S. The study found that much of the programming that occurred in the Boys Lodging Houses in New York City could be classified as youth-led or youth-informed. Specifically, the children's bank, lending library, and military cadet companies provide detailed examples of youth participating in meaningful programmatic decision-making. Other program aspects in the boys lodging houses could be classified as youth dominated or anarchical. The child placement process was found to be disempowering. There was very little evidence of younger children and girls engaging in programmatic decision-making.
The literature review included four studies from 2,631 potentially relevant titles and abstracts. Three of the four studies were qualitative and no randomized controlled trials were found, thus meta-analysis was not possible. The review found that the state of the evidence of the effectiveness of YEPs for youth aging out of foster care is sparse and methodologically weak. All four studies found that YEP participation improved various youth development outcomes. One study reported three iatrogenic effects for a subset of youth.
The cross-sectional survey examined the level of psychological empowerment of 193 foster care alumni (ages 18-25) who did (n= 99) and did not (n=94) participate in at least one YEP in Florida. Those who participated in a YEP experienced significantly higher perceived control (B = .25, p =.007), motivation to influence their environments (B = .30, SE B =.09, p =.001), self-efficacy for socio-political skills, and participatory behavior (B = .586, SE B= .136, p =.000), than non-YEP participants even when controlling for age at program entry, gender, race, time in foster care, number of placements, and Pinellas County location.
Findings from this dissertation suggest that youth empowerment is possible in child welfare and might be beneficial. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Simon, Barbara Levy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014