The crucial role of capital in fostering positive employment outcomes and earnings for foster care alumni

Date Published: 

Hook, J. L., & Courtney, M.E. (2011). Employment outcomes of former foster youth as young adults: The importance of human, personal, and social capital. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(10), 1855-1865.

Reviewed by: 
Melanie Doucet

This study examines the association between the characteristics of  former foster youth and their experiences with employment and wage outcomes in early adulthood. Using an approach rooted in the theories of human, personal and social capital, the researchers examine factors such as educational attainment, delinquency, early parenthood, age at emancipation, and type of placement(s). The study makes a unique contribution to the literature. 

The authors used data from the U.S. Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth, the largest known longitudinal study of youth leaving care. Based on four waves of data collection from 2002 to 2009, 732 youth ages 17 to 24 from the states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois were included in the sample. Analysis was conducted using multilevel models, logistic regression for employment of 20 or more hours a week, and multiple regression to predict wages among those employed. The authors found that only half of former youth in care were employed by age 24, with 22% of those employed having earnings below the poverty line. Human, personal, and social capital were all found to be correlated with former youth in care employment outcomes. Low educational attainment by the age of 17 was found to be a barrier to employment for both genders. Early motherhood was found to be a barrier to employment for young females, with the majority having children by the age of 24. A higher proportion of African American youth were found to be looking for work after leaving care than white youth. One of the most interesting findings highlighted the positive association between the number of years remaining in care past the age of 18 with employment and wages. The authors speculate that youth who are in extended care have an increased ability to pursue higher education, which then translates into positive employment outcome in early adulthood.

The authors advocate for increased efforts to improve the transition to adulthood for youth in care to improve early adulthood employment outcomes. Due to the low rates of educational and employment attainment found for this population, the authors stress that more efforts are needed to address the barriers, deficits and lack of engagement in paid employment long before youth in care reach the age of majority. Prevention and early intervention of delinquent behaviours are also recommended, especially for young men, through a closer collaboration between the child welfare and criminal justice systems. The authors recommend that states extend foster care beyond the age of 18, with special attention placed on legislation provisions that may be excluding young parents from extended care services.

Methodological notes: 

Dependent employment variables included in this study focused on whether the youth was employed 20 hours or more per week and their hourly wage, thus excluding youth who worked part-time for less than 20 hours per week. Independent variables included a derived human capital variable, which included reading ability and educational attainment; a derived personal capital variable which included delinquency, early parenthood and history of abuse and neglect; and a derived social capital variable which included service factors such as type of placement, number of placements and time in care past age 18. The authors do not explain why they chose the specific variables to include in the derived capital variables. It is also important to note that only 401 out of 732 youth were included in all four waves of data collection.