Date of Award

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

First Advisor

Jill S. Levenson

Second Advisor

Peter J. Pecora

Third Advisor

Robert Seifer

Abstract

Child maltreatment, a major public-health concern in the United States, has the most detrimental impact on adult emotional and physical development. According to the urban Institute, in the past decade foster-care expenditures for child maltreatment totaled $14.4 billion. Each year, 30,000 alumni "age out" of foster care. These are alumni who exit the foster-care system only because they reach the age of 18, not because they are reunited with their families, are adopted, or leave to attend college. Prior longitudinal research has shown that the nearly 80% of the alumni who are emancipated at the age of 18 failed to obtain a high school diploma.

This dissertation study of children in foster care applied descriptive and correlational statistical analysis to a retrospective set of 5 14 case records from 23 Casey Foundation field offices. Data from 1,582 foster-care alumni records and 1,068 interviews addressed correlations between selected variables and postsecondary adult educational-achievement outcomes. The study sought to determine which of seven key predictors: (a) gender, (b) high school completion prior to emancipation, (c) ethnicity, (d) age entering foster care, (e) number of foster-care placements, (f) number of school changes, and (g) type of child maltreatment, were associated with higher educational achievement. Ancillary analyses on 19 predictive variables established possible links to educational-achievement levels. Demographics, risk factors, and foster-care experiences were established as predictors of educational achievement. Specifically, seven significant predictors of educational achievement were identified and analyzed: (a) receipt of high school diploma/GED while in foster care, (b) number of foster-care placements, (c) age at time of interview, (d) enrollment in special-education classes, (e) repeating a grade, (f) degree of preparation for leaving care, and (g) never being on public assistance since leaving care.

The study's final policy recommendation is for foster-care agencies to continue support at least to the point of high school graduation, rather than arbitrarily using age 18 as the criteria for emancipation. The research findings of this study may improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care, target vulnerable children in the foster-care system, and raise awareness of the many weaknesses in the existing educational framework for foster children.

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