REPS Facilitates Symposium for Foster Care Youth Researchers

The Office of Research, Evaluation & Program Support (REPS) facilitated a symposium November 7, 2017, to convene faculty fellows conducting research on current and former foster care youth and their transition to college. REPS selected the fellows in summer 2016 through an RFP process; funds for the two-year fellowships were provided by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and were designed to increase the understanding of pathways of postsecondary success for youth in foster care, particularly within the CUNY context. The symposium marked the culmination of the first year of the fellowship.

Following introductions and a charge by REPS Director Carol Ripple to listen for thematic synergies across the presentations, Hyein Lee and Simon Sandh presented the REPS team’s research on high-school experiences among CUNY students in care. The data described high college aspirations and histories of domestic and academic instability; student surveys captured the importance of caseworkers, educational specialists, and high school counselors as resources for youth in care applying to college.

Mia Simon, Aabha Adhiya, and Zenobia Johnson (CUNY Start-ASAP Foster Care Initiative) (FCI) provided program updates on two initiatives. FCI, which partners with 23 foster-care agencies and provides student services to support academic success, is on track to meet this year’s enrollment goal of 100 CUNY Start students. The CUNY/ACS Fostering College Success Initiative provides college residential housing and support to youth in care through a partnership between CUNY and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

Kathleen M. Cumiskey (College of Staten Island) and Michelle Fine (CUNY Graduate Center) presented preliminary findings on students transitioning to college out of foster care. The researchers are focusing largely on documenting the students’ lives and asking students to share barriers and supports they have encountered in pursuing their education. Barriers included mental health issues and a lack of financial support; common supports included family, which encompasses extended family and even close friends, and counselors. Cumiskey and Fine are also learning about the gifts the students bring to CUNY: many students cited creative expression as one of these gifts. Cumiskey and Fine have engaged students in designing a mobile media app to help support former foster care students.

Susan A. Dumais and Naomi Spence, both from Lehman College, presented initial findings from quantitative research on former foster care youth in college and interviews with former foster care youth at CUNY. Their research focuses on three risk factors facing youth pursuing college degrees, including maltreatment and wanting to leave home, and ten protective factors that contribute to college success, including self-esteem and the likelihood of having a mentor. Dumais and Spence are preparing data to share at spring 2018 conferences and are proceeding with additional interviews.

For her project, Colleen Cary Katz (Silberman School of Social Work) connected with emancipated foster youth through the NYC Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA). Themes across 13 interviews with emancipated foster youth students included the balancing act of work, school, and (sometimes) parenting, with pursuing their college dreams and aspirations. Her research includes a focus on access to employment, housing, health, and social support one year after emancipation. One of Katz’s goals is to incorporate student perspectives interrelate to help develop a more holistic understanding of the emancipated foster care youth student experience.

The symposium closed with a lively exchange of ideas on how best to share findings at the culmination of the fellowships a year from now.

The fellowships, FCI program, and FCI research conducted by REPS are made possible through the generosity of funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.