Foster Care Alumni Achievement in Higher Education: the Role of Trauma
Foster care alumni lag behind the general population in post-secondary academic achievement. This cross-sectional study uses a random sample of forty-six foster care alumni from a Midwestern public university to explore the relationship between exposure to trauma and post-secondary academic achievement (14.5% response rate; age range 17–24). While no significant relationship was found between trauma exposure and GPA or failing classes, participants who experienced increased exposure to trauma were more likely to have withdrawn from a class because it was too difficult or the semester was too overwhelming. More research is needed to further understand these findings.
KeywordsFoster care Academic achievement Postsecondary education Trauma
This research was supported by the Michigan State University School of Social Work. The School assisted in data collection, but did not have a role in study design or analysis and interpretation of data.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Brown, D. W., Anda, R. F., Tiemeier, H., Felitti, V. J., Edwards, V. J., Croft, J. B., & Giles, W. H. (2009). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of premature mortality. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 37(5), 389–396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2009.06.021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Burley, M., & Halpern, M. (2001). Educational attainment of Foster youth: Achievement and graduation outcomes for children in state care - full report. Seattle: Washington State Institue for Public Policy. Retrieved from http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/773/Wsipp_Educational-Attainment-of-Foster-Youth-Achievement-and-Graduation-Outcomes-for-Children-in-State-Care_Full-Report.pdf.Google Scholar
- Burns, B. J., Phillips, S. D., Warner, H. R., Barth, R. P., Kolko, D. J., Campbell, Y., & Landsverk, J. (2004). Mental health need and access to mental health services by youths involved with child welfare: A national survey. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(8), 960–970. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.chi.0000127590.95585.65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Carlson, E. B., Smith, S. R., Palmieri, P. A., Dalenberg, C., Ruzek, J. I., Kimerling, R., et al. (2011). Development and validation of a brief self-report measure of trauma exposure: The trauma history screen. Psychological Assessment, 23(2), 463–477. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Carlson, E. B., Palmieri, P., Smith, S., Kimerling, R., Ruzek, J., & Burling, T. (n.d.). A brief self-report measure of traumatic events: The trauma history screen. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/assessment/te-measures/ths.asp
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). The AFCARS report. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport23.pdf
- Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: L. Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. A., Deblinger, E., & Mannarino, A. P. (2006). Treating trauma and traumatic grief in children and adolescents: A clinician’s guide. New York: Guilford Press. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10172288.Google Scholar
- College Portrait. (2014). Michigan State University College Portrait. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.collegeportraits.org/MI/MSU/characteristics
- Cook, R. (1991). A national evaluation of title IV-E foster care independent living programs for youth. Phase 2 final report. Volumes 1 and 2. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED348599
- Cortese, B., Schumann, A., & Uhde, T. (2017). Accelerated neurodegeneration: Effects of cumulative trauma exposure and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (ptsd) in relatively young combat veterans. Biological Psychiatry, 81(10), S233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.02.446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Courtney, M. E., Piliavin, I., Grogan-Kaylor, A., & Nesmith, A. (2001). Foster youth transitions to adulthood: A longitudinal view of youth leaving care. Child Welfare, 80(6), 685–717.Google Scholar
- Courtney, M. E., Dworsky, A., Lee, J., & Raap, M. (2010). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at ages 23 & 24. New York: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from https://www.chapinhall.org/sites/default/files/Midwest_Study_Age_23_24.pdf.Google Scholar
- Courtney, M. E., Dworsky, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.Google Scholar
- Custom Insight (n.d.). Survey random sample calculator. Retrieved from https://www.custominsight.com/articles/random-sample-calculator.asp
- Davis, R. (2006). College access, financial aid and college success for undergraduates from foster care. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Retrieved from https://www.nasfaa.org/uploads/documents/NASFAAFosterCareReport.pdf.Google Scholar
- Day, A., Dworsky, A., Fogarty, K., & Damashek, A. (2011). An examination of post-secondary retention and graduation among foster care youth enrolled in a four-year university. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(11), 2335–2341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.08.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2014). Internet, phone, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method (4th ed.). Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
- Dworsky, A., & Perez, A. (2009). Helping former foster youth graduate from college: Campus support programs in California and Washington state. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children.Google Scholar
- Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Greeson, J. K. P., Briggs, E. C., Kisiel, C. L., Layne, C. M., Ake III, G. S., Ko, S. J., et al. (2011). Complex trauma and mental health in children and adolescents placed in foster care: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Child Welfare, 90(6), 91+.Google Scholar
- Harrison-Jackson, M. (2009). A multi-state evaluation of the factors predicting educational achievement of adult foster care alumni (Ph.D.). Lynn University, United States -- Florida. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/305168520/abstract/B258D80EDD68424DPQ/1
- Kira, I., Lewandowski, L., Somers, C. L., Yoon, J. S., & Chiodo, L. (2012). The effects of trauma types, cumulative trauma, and PTSD on IQ in two highly traumatized adolescent groups. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, (1), 4, 128–139. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022121.
- McMillen, C., Auslander, W., Elze, D., White, T., & Thompson, R. (2003). Educational experiences and aspirations of older youth in foster care. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America. Retrieved from http://cmhsr.wustl.edu/Resources/Documents/Educational%20Experiences%20and%20Aspirations%20of%20Older%20youth%20in%20Foster%20care.pdf.Google Scholar
- Pecora, P., Kessler, R., Williams, J., O’Brien, K., Downs, A., English, D., et al. (2005). Improving family foster care: Findings from the northwest foster care alumni study. Seattle: Casey Family Programs. Retrieved from http://www.casey.org/media/AlumniStudies_NW_Report_FR.pdf.Google Scholar
- Pecora, P., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., et al. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the northwest foster care alumni study. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(12), 1459–1481. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Salazar, A. M. (2012). Supporting college success in foster care alumni: Salient factors related to postsecondary retention. Child Welfare, 91(5), 139–167.Google Scholar
- Suliman, S., Mkabile, S. G., Fincham, D. S., Ahmed, R., Stein, D. J., & Seedat, S. (2009). Cumulative effect of multiple trauma on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression in adolescents. Comprehensive Psychiatry; New York, 50(2), 121–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2008.06.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2017). Child maltreatment 2015. Retrieved June 15, 2017, from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2015.pdf#page=20
- van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
- van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., & Weisæth, L. (Eds.). (1996). Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experienceon mind, body, and society. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Wolanin, T. (2005). Higher education opportunities for foster youth: A primer for policymakers. Washington, DC: The Institute for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from http://www.ihep.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/pubs/opportunitiesfosteryouth.pdf.Google Scholar