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College of Education News

Education professor focuses on foster care education in study

Former foster care recipients and their experiences with postsecondary education were recently examined by Dr. Barbara Tobolowsky, an Associate Professor in the College of Education with a colleague from UTA, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and Baylor University. Their recently published study in Children and Youth Services Review considered the success and challenges in pursuing postsecondary education for foster care alumni.

Recent studies found that almost twenty thousand adolescents aged out of the U.S. foster care system in 2017 and many lack family or financial support. As a result, former foster care recipients experience significant difficulties transitioning into independent living. Postsecondary education presents a particularly daunting challenge for foster care alumni, with only an estimated 3-11% earning a bachelor’s degree.

Dr. Tobolowsky’s study with her colleagues acknowledges that individuals previously served in foster care lack strong community and family supports that could help them in their educational paths. The study builds on previous work in this area by including the voices of foster care alumni who attended or are attending a postsecondary institution. It also explores the unique role played by foster parents and individuals working within the foster care system and the postsecondary experiences of these alumni.

The authors recommend further study to follow these adults over time to understand their needs and how child welfare agencies and universities can best support their educational efforts. Research is needed to understand the various factors that contribute to successful attainment of a postsecondary degree by foster alumni. Additionally, examining the college choices these students make could provide insight into the high rates of college attrition among foster youth.

“These changes are the greatest weapons against the disadvantages that former foster youth often experience that preclude them from achieving brighter futures,” the study concludes.

“It is exciting to read important work such as this being conducted by our faculty. The information gained helps to inform how we might better support current youth who are served through foster care as well as foster care alumni to facilitate their independence and success as adults,” according to Teresa Taber Doughty, dean of UTA’s College of Education. “I love that our faculty are directly impacting lives and strengthening communities through their research. Not only is it a priority for our faculty, it directly aligns to our UTA strategic plan focused on sustainable urban communities and health and the human condition.”

Dr. Tobolowsky co-authored this work with Dr. Maria Scannapieco from UTA’s School of Social Work, Dr. Donna M. Aguiniga from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Social Work, and Dr. Elissa E. Madden from Baylor University’s School of Social Work.

barbara tobolowsky