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February 2018Vol. 19, No. 1Bridging Relational Gaps for Youth in Foster Care

Youth transitioning out of foster care are faced with numerous challenges and disadvantages. Of the 20,000 youth who age out of foster care in the United States each year, only about half attain their GED by the age of 19, compared with their 87 percent of their peers not in foster care; about one-third are employed at the age of 19, compared with 44 percent of their peers; and one-fourth become parents before the age of 21, compared with 6.6 percent of their peers. In addition, youth coming from foster care are also more likely than their peers who have not been in foster care to be diagnosed with a mental illness, be homeless, suffer from substance use, and become involved in the justice system. Many youth in foster care are at high risk for poor outcomes because they originate from unsafe and unhealthy family situations. Further, these youth often develop relational deficiencies as a result of being removed from their parents, relatives, and friends and lack the ability to develop relationships and strong connections.

Care and Connections: Bridging Relational Gaps for Foster Youths highlights the need for protective relationships for youth aging out of care as well as positive youth development programs that promote relationship-building skills. The report presents a case study of The DREAMR (Determined, Responsible and Empowered Adolescents Mentoring Relationships) Project, one of four Children's Bureau-funded interventions that aimed to increase relationship-building skills for youth transitioning out of care.

The DREAMR Project was a randomized controlled trial conducted in Clark County, Nevada. Project participants (a total of 121 individuals who were currently or formerly youth in foster care and were aged 12-21 during the time of the study) received a range of services or supports that included a mentor from Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a youth specialist, a sex education class, a cell phone to maintain contact with service providers, and, for youth who were parents or pregnant, a parenting class. For the evaluation, the project randomly assigned participants to control and treatment groups and collected data at baseline, after 6 months, and after 12 months. The outcome measures used to track progress focused on emotional well-being, knowledge of reproductive health, and relational skills.

Although the findings of the evaluation showed no significant differences between control and treatment participants across the various outcome measures used to gauge participant progress, the implications of this research for practice include the following:

  • Child welfare agencies should collect data about youth's relational capacities as well as the number of supportive adults a youth in care has.
  • Youth in care already have a large number of professionals working with them on a day-to-day basis, which can be overwhelming. Future interventions should focus more on consolidating services and minimizing the number of people delivering them.
  • Relationship-based interventions should tailor services to the particular needs of each youth.
  • Caregivers, caseworkers, birth parents, and other stakeholders should be engaged and supportive of the intervention to ensure proper implementation.

The report Care and Connections: Bridging Relational Gaps for Foster Youths is available at