youth transition out of foster care as they "age-out" of the system. This can prove to be a very challenging and difficult phase for young people as they are expected to take on adult responsibilities and make their own way in the world. Whether youth successfully transition from foster care to independent living is multifaceted, and requires detailed investigation in order to illuminate how the foster care system can facilitate change throughout the "aging-out" process.
Keller et al. (2007) utilized person-oriented research methods in order to investigate how well adolescents transition from life as part of the child welfare system to independent living as adults. This research method was chosen for the study in order to appropriate capture and understand the various and diverse ways these youth may be prepared for the transition among a sample that is large and representative of the population of youth aging-out from foster care. The primary aim of the study was to identify specific subpopulations among aging-out youth through the examination of their abilities to successfully weather the transition. Capacities were assessed in order to explore these abilities. The capacities under investigation included what would be considered as "normal" markers within American society, including work, school, and family.
Multidimensional profiles on various factors involved in adaptation were generated through latent class analysis, yielding indicators such as employment experience, progress with education, and parenthood. Indicators also display experience the youth have had with the foster care system involving reflection of capacities and supports that affect transition into independent living. The analysis used in the study also consisted of a serious problem behavior indicator. The outcome objective for the study was the development of a system of classification for adolescents in foster care that provided a holistic assessment as prior to transitioning out of the system (Keller et al., 2007).
The results of the study by Keller et al. (2007) indicated four distinct subpopulations of youth transitioning out of foster care. The first class, which represented 43% of the entire sample, consisted of youth that were more likely to have exhibited problem behavior, to have experienced living in group care or nonfamily arrangements, had more than five placements, and were more likely to have run away from a placement. This subpopulation also exhibited less favorable statistics with regard to grade retention and employment in comparison with the entire sample in the study (Keller et al., 2007).
On the other hand, the second largest subpopulation comprising 38% of the sample showed lowest levels of behavior problems and grade retention, more stable placement history, as well as highest levels of experience with employment. This group was demonstrated as most likely to be living in kinship foster care. This group also demonstrated much lower likelihood of running away in comparison with the first subpopulation (Keller et al., 2007).
The third subpopulation made up for about 14% of the sample, and was characterized by the lowest parenthood rates and no instances of youth running away, but also highest rates of problem behavior and grade retention. Of this group, none of the youth lived in kinship foster care, with the majority of adolescents reporting between two and four placements (Keller et al., 2007).
The final, and smallest subpopulation identified in the study represented approximately 5% of the sample. This group was characterized by highest rates of parenthood, high grade retention rate, reported lowest employment experience rates, low rates of running away, and average reports with regard to problem behavior. The entire group lived in kinship foster care situations and were mostly in their first placement (Keller et al., 2007). The subgroups identified in the study parallel classifications used in the clinical assessment process, so practical application of the results is facilitated (Keller et al., 2007).
Keller et al. (2007) demonstrated that kinship living situations for youth in foster care may have beneficial effects with regard to transitioning out of care. However, other research has explored the value of non-kin relationships and their effects on youth transitioning out of foster care. A study by Munson et al. (2010) investigated characteristics of natural non-kin mentor relationships among youth that were in the process of aging-out of foster care. Qualitative methods were used in order to understand the characteristics and dynamics involved in these relationships, and the perspectives of the youth in regard to the nature of these relationships were investigated through thematic analysis based in relational-cultural theory (Munson et al., 2010).
Results of the study by Munson et al. (2010) indicated that the two most common types of non-kin mentors were friends of the family and staff at a former placement. Certain qualities or attributes of the mentors were identified as being of value to the youth, including positive personality qualities, being understanding, and having similarities with the youth. In regards to qualities of the relationship between the mentor and the youth, the qualities deemed as most important by the youth in the study were consistency and maintaining contact, longevity, trust, authenticity, respect, and empathy. The youth in the study also reported receiving high levels of social support from their non-kin mentors (Munson et al., 2010). These positive non-kin mentorships aided in more successful transitions out of foster care among the youth in the study.
Other research demonstrating the value of mentor relationships for youth transitioning out of foster care was conducted by Ahrens et al. (2008). This study investigated whether having natural mentors resulted in more favorable outcomes for youth transitioning out of foster care. Results of the study indicated that natural mentoring relationships positively affected the youth, exhibiting more favorable outcomes in young adult functioning in comparison to youth that did not have mentoring relationships. Furthermore, natural mentoring relationships, which refer to mentors acquired by the youth through their existing social networking, serve to influence the youth in foster care in a way that provides consistency. These results indicate that the cultivation and support of these types of mentoring relationships could have beneficial effects in facilitating successful transitioning out of foster care (Ahrens et al., 2008).
Factors such as access to health care and homelessness have also been investigated as possibly being significantly associated to how successfully youth transition from foster care into the adult world. A study was conducted by Kushel et al. (2007) that explored how housing status and access to healthcare may influence aging-out outcomes. This study was conducted through an examination of older youth transitioning out of foster care with regard to incidence of homelessness immediately after leaving the system and looked at whether this housing status was significantly associated with health care access as well as outcomes.
Results of the study by Kushel et al. (2007) indicated higher rates of homelessness among youth transitioned out of foster care within the first 18 months after leaving the system. With regard to health care access, poor rates were observed among all of the transitioned youth, and homelessness was significantly associated with higher rates of poor health care exhibited through having unmet healthcare needs and having no insurance. However, these factors were not found to be significantly associated with worse outcomes for the youth transitioning out of foster care (Kushel et al., 2007). Strategies should be focused on the improvement of health outcomes among these youth, particularly in terms of their lack of health insurance, as well as housing instability and homelessness (Kushel et al., 2007).
Interventions may be used in order to promote greater success and more positive outcomes for youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Counseling is often used within this context with the aim of providing support to youth to hopefully facilitate smoother transitions in the aging-out process. Research conducted by Scott et al. (2009) explored variables that may be associated with satisfaction with the counseling process among male aging-out youth. The…