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Foster Care: Research Paper Thesis

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As the existing literature has shown, there are many interrelated factors that contribute to sexual victimization in youth post-foster care. Firstly, it is important to reflect on how adverse childhood experiences set forth a trajectory of risk for sexual victimization in foster care youth. Studies have found that the existence of child abuse, both sexual and physical in nature, was correlated with an increased risk for sexual street victimization later (Tyler & Schmitz, 2018). It was also noted that a history of abuse in childhood was related to homeless youth experiencing mental health issues (Tyler & Schmitz, 2018). This helps demonstrate the way that factors are inter-correlated with one another and can act as either triggers or responses to negative outcomes. Aged-out foster care youth who have experienced abuse and trauma as a child are more likely to use substances, and thereby put themselves at risk of sexual victimization (Rebbe et al., 2017). Thereafter, the emotional and mental trauma experienced from the sexual victimization can further reinforce negative coping strategies and predispose homeless youth to re-victimization (Bender et al., 2016). All in all, it is evident that a wide range of factors contribute to a risk of sexual victimization in homeless youth including substance use, history of violence and abuse, and using sex as a means for survival (Heerde & Hemphill, 2016).

Current Initiatives

There is no single factor that causes aged-out foster care youth to become homeless and experience sexual victimization. The literature supports the thesis that there is a significant correlation between adverse effects related to foster care and the likelihood of homelessness and sexual victimization. The reality is, that this topic is very complex and there are many contributing events that can either ameliorate or exacerbate the negative issues faced by aged-out foster care youth. Within the existing research on this topic, there is a lack of solid information regarding the various programs which are currently being used to assist aged-out foster care youth. There are housing-first initiatives in place which are designed to help youth aging-out of foster care, but there is not enough supply for the demand, and a lack of concordant initiatives which go along with the housing (Roebeck, 2008). Dworsky et al. (2013) briefly reflect on the current transitional housing programs which exist to help youth move towards independent living, however, they explain that “little is known about the extent to which these programs prevent homelessness or promote long-term housing stability” (Dworsky et al., 2013, pg. 322). A majority of the resources available to homeless youth who have aged out of foster care are in the regular food and shelter programs for homeless individuals in general (Tyler & Schmitz, 2018). These programs have limited supply, and do not provide extra help for youth who have come from the foster-care system, and those who were sexually victimized. Additionally, many resource centers are non-profit or rely on donations to operate. One Vancouver-based example is the youth division of the Family Services of Greater Vancouver (FSGV). It has resources available 365 days a year and focuses on helping homeless youth with addiction treatment, support services, and both short term housing (FSGV, 2019). This program, along with others, offers support systems which do not expand beyond a limited range of resources, funding, and do not target all issues faced by homeless youth. With the limitations on existing programs identified, the following section reviews what should be done in the future to better assist homeless youth. An emphasis will be placed specifically on how to deal with youth who have experienced sexual victimization, as well as how to prevent it.

Future Initiatives

It is evident that there is an immediate need for reform in policies related to aiding youth who are aging out of foster care, as well as intervention initiatives for those who have become homeless and face victimization in the streets already. A majority of the existing articles related to this subject identify priorities for future direction, and what programs should focus on to best suit the individual needs of aged-out foster care youth. Many of these articles suggest implications for the future, because there is a lack of current targeted social initiatives to prevent adverse effects resulting from the foster care system. It is argued that foster youth need special attention and resources because they “do not receive the social support that is typical of their general population peers” (Rebbe et al., 2017, pg. 108)

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There is an especially pressing need for supportive housing interventions which are specifically targeted towards youth who are aging-out of foster care (Fowler at al., 2009). Although social workers often work with youth to discuss their future housing plans (Dworsky et al., 2013), there is not enough support and immediate housing to aid their transition into independent living. If youth are not transitioning into a stable living environment, there is an increased chance of homelessness and, therefore, street victimization (Bender et al., 2015). The lack of government provided supportive housing options, creates the inadvertent effect of forcing youth into unpleasant situations and having them turn to substances and unhealthy means of finding housing and income. As noted by Dworsky et al. (2013) a higher priority of planning and post-transition assistance should be given to youths with a history of mental health concerns, as well as those who have been abused. There is evidence which suggests that youth who have experienced sexual victimization in the streets face unique barriers to maintaining stable living conditions (Slesnick et al., 2016). Future initiatives must effectively address the complex issues surrounding youth who have experienced sexual victimization and create systems which ensure the best possible chance of a positive outcome and stability. Future programs for housing should also focus on building youth up, and effectively preparing them for life outside of the system. Within the housing initiatives, as well as for youth who are still in foster care placements, targeted workshops should be implemented which seek to help youth succeed. Providing directed employment opportunities and skill building tools for youth can mean the difference between maintaining employment and remaining jobless. It is also important to ensure resources for mental health, family planning, and addiction prevention and treatment are available.

Another key factor which should be discussed, are the victim services which assist youth who have been sexually victimized. Currently, youth can receive support through the Child and Youth Advocacy Centers (CYAC), from a variety of multidisciplinary services (Wemmers, 2017). The number of these centers across the country has grown over the past decade and aims to help youth with reducing their mental and emotional traumas after victimization (Wemmers, 2017). The CYAC are great resources, but there needs to be a greater expansion of these services to better reach all the youth that need help. In Quebec, for example, there is only one CYAC in the entire province (Wemmers, 2017). Further reform is also needed within victim services programs, with adequate numbers of properly trained staff. One article argues that service providers and teachers who work in programs which cater to aged-out foster care youth, should have trauma-informed training in order to effectively combat the negative life course trends of the youth (Rebbe et al., 2017). Within programs which aim to assist aged-out foster care youth who have been sexually victimized, a delicate approach must be taken. The existing literature agrees that the adverse experiences in foster care are a main contributor to future sexual victimization (Tyler & Schmitz, 2018). Targeting early instances of victimization and providing extensive safety measures for youth in foster care should be the first step to preventing homelessness and sexual victimization. It has been suggested that the most effective way of dealing with each individual case is to accurately identify their adverse childhood experiences (Rebbe et al., 2017), as well as personal resulting issues such as addiction. Because each individual youth will have their own complex history of issues, as well as their current struggles, effective initiatives will address all aspects (Slesnick et al., 2016). The United Nations Declaration acknowledges the importance of aiding victims who require special protection (Wemmers, 2017). There is a dire need for reform in the realm of Canadian initiatives towards protecting victims who need the extra protection measures, emphasizing children and youth. Young people are an especially vulnerable population, and victim services which cater towards this sub-group are crucial. In relation to the topic of sexual victimization in homeless youth, it is crucial to note that victim service reform should be viewed as a secondary program. Primary programs should aim to target the root social causes of youth homelessness and adverse conditions in foster care alike. Victim services for youth who have experienced sexual victimization after becoming homeless are vulnerable and in need of an array of supportive assistance. In Canada, roughly one third of programs for victims revolve around sexual violence, but there is a lack of specific targeted resources for youth (Wemmers, 2017).


Within the existing reports and articles related to the topic of homeless aged-out foster care youth and sexual victimization, there are extensive recommendations which shed light on what components are crucial to implement. A report prepared for the Institute for the Prevention of Crime made specific recommendations in relation to this issue. The author posits that there should be both an improvement in release policies from foster care, as well as victim assistance for youth in care (Roebuck, 2008). There is also a section of the report dedicated strictly to homelessness and victimization, which puts an emphasis on foster care planning. Some of the key recommendations regarding foster care youth include: to provide financial support for independent living, improved training for life skills, and providing individualized advice and help for decision-making (Roebeck, 2008). Both Roebeck’s (2008) report and an article by Rebbe et al. (2017) mentioned the need for in depth review of policies surrounding the foster care system and determining the impact of age on predisposition to homelessness. Increasing the age of transition to 21 years old instead of 18 would make a notable difference, and research has shown that negative outcomes can be reduced if youth are allowed to remain in foster care longer (Fowler et al., 2009). The B.C. Coroners Service (2018) report mentioned the need for better engagement between youth and policymakers on the reform of policies related to foster care and transitions therefrom. These articles all suggest that there is room for reform and development within the existing policies in the foster care system. Other recommendations made by the B.C. Coroners Service (2018) also apply. The report was made to investigate deaths of youth who were currently or formerly in foster care, and what contributed to the rates of mortality specifically in this population. The report found many of the deaths were related to homelessness, mental health issues and substance abuse. These issues were mentioned frequently in the existing literature on post-foster care youth. Some of the recommendations made by the coroner’s report include better communication amongst service providers, extending support services to fit each youth’s needs, and more research to determine outcomes for police implications (B.C. Coroners Service, 2018). It is clear, that the existing initiatives do not provide adequate programs for aged out foster care youth and the resources they need for combatting sexual victimization specifically. The resulting initiatives will no doubt require a homogenous effort between government agencies, support services, and housing and lifestyle programs. Combatting every instance of sexual victimization or adverse effect related to becoming homeless after foster care is not realistic. There can, however, be significant improvements made to the lives of youth through collective and collaborative efforts on both micro and macro levels with the existing recommendations in mind.


In summary, there are many contributing factors to the sexual victimization of aged-out foster care youth. Factors which were discussed thoroughly in the existing literature have been shown to both predict sexual violence, as well as be responses to the victimizations. Some of these factors include childhood adversities, gender differences, substance use, and mental health issues. There is currently a lack of both prevention and intervention programs to combat these issues, as well as resources for homeless youth. The literature does not identify many examples of existing initiatives but provides suggestions for where funding should be allocated and where reform is needed. Future initiatives must take a trauma-informed approach to dealing with youth who have been aged-out of the foster care system and become homeless and victimized. Programs must ensure that resources are available to target a plethora of issues, and address both the predispositions to sexual victimization as well as the resulting adversities faced thereafter. Furthermore, better recognition is needed in relation to this issue, and government policies must reflect the growing need to improve the foster care system and exiting strategies. All in all, the research suggests that there is room for exponential growth to assist youth when they have become homeless and sexually victimized, in the forms of prevention, intervention, and response initiatives

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