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Former homeless youth who have spent an extensive period of time in foster care or experienced disruptions in their foster youth placements are at a significantly higher risk of engaging in detrimental risk-taking behaviors according to a study conducted by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work faculty Amanda Yoshioka-Maxwell. Both homeless youth and former foster youth face increased risk, but this study in particular takes into consideration youth who have experienced both homelessness and foster care.

These findings shed light on the importance of network engagement and how the characteristics affect behavioral health outcomes.

The data was collected during a two- to four-week interval over three periods of time from 2015 to 2016 at a drop-in center in Hollywood, California. The population consisted of 184 primarily male homeless foster youth that was mainly African American, Latino, and mixed-race, who were approximately 22-years-old.

“We already know that homeless former foster youth face higher rates of risk behavior compared to their peers without foster care experience, but we need to start focusing on the impact of social network engagement and how network connectivity plays a role in risk-taking behaviors,” said Yoshioka-Maxwell.

The participants were required to complete a risk-behavior questionnaire that was modeled after the YouthNet Study, and the Foster Care Experiences Assessment, a qualitative assessment created by Yoshioka-Maxwell that gathered information on the range of experiences among former youth, both during and after placement.

The data revealed that youth experiencing homelessness for the first time before exiting foster care were more likely to engage in condomless sex, and youth with higher numbers of foster care placements were more likely to engage in methamphetamine use. The findings are useful in targeting interventions for reducing risk among the population, perhaps indicating the point of intervention where types of social networks, and their associated risk, may be mitigated.

Although prior research has started to demonstrate high rates of poor behavioral health outcomes among homeless former foster youth, the population has actually received relatively little attention in scientific literature, in comparison to homeless youth and youth with foster care experiences. Future policy research is needed to better understand the long-term implications of child welfare policy on young adult homelessness.

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