Just Recovery From COVID: Focus on Youth and Young Adults

Just Recovery From COVID: Focus on Youth and Young Adults

Perspectives From Young Adults with Foster Care Experience

As the COVID pandemic enters its third year of impact, donors and foundation funders may face uncertainty about how to ensure a more just recovery from COVID-19. The 2022 High Impact Giving Guide from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) is designed to do just that – help grantmakers turn good intentions into high social impact.
Following the methodology of prior work, the expertise of individuals with lived experience dealing with a particular circumstance is recognized as critical to informing a philanthropic strategy. Building on the concept of centering the insights, data and experiences of individuals who will become the beneficiaries of future programming, CHIP has partnered with The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research to learn about the mental health needs of older youth with foster care experience during the pandemic.
The resulting qualitative study involved 26 semi-structured interviews of young adults currently in or aged out of foster care. Four domains emerged as critical to their overall well-being: Interpersonal Relationships, Impact of the Pandemic, Managing Mental Health, and Systemic Interactions.

Key areas to help COVID recovery among youth and young adults

Although the impacts of the pandemic are felt across issues and in every population around the globe, the CHIP team examined key areas in which existing disparities, particularly across racial, economic, and gender lines, grew. The voices and experiences of the young adults with foster care experience that the Field Center team spoke with elevate and reinforce the importance of four of these strategies that are critical to a just recovery for youth.

Support mental health and well-being, given the increase in mental health challenges due to COVID-19

mental health icon

Early Field Center research uncovered high rates of mental health struggles among older youth in and aged out of care, with more than half of participants in a national survey study reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety. The recent deeper dive into this area illuminated participant-driven strategies for managing mental health care, including engaging in healthy coping skills (e.g., reading, social media, exercise, and music) and promoting connections to resilience factors and external supports (e.g., work, therapy, friends/family). Access to high-quality mental health care must be available, in addition to ensuring that vulnerable young adults have autonomy in choosing activities to address their mental health.

Youth Voices on What Is Needed

“When I was growing up, school, and the friends I had at school, was the only thing I really had. And then two of the major things were taken away.” — 21-year-old aged out of foster care

Youth Voices on What Helps

“When I'm having a bad day or mental health problems, I continuously go back to my favorite shows or my favorite book.” — 19-year-old in foster care

“Eventually, they found me a therapist. I had virtual therapy sessions and I started getting back to my normal self and feeling a little more hopeful.” — 19-year-old aged out of foster care

Help youth and young adults make needed connections to survive and thrive

Youth and Young Adults

Young adults aging out of foster care (i.e.,Transition Aged Youth) need connections to other individuals, caring adults, and systems that can assist them successfully transition to adulthood. Investment in programs that support mental health and life skill development is critical for this marginalized population. Although the vast majority of young people in our study identified peers or friends as a key source of support, an involved non-parental adult, mentor, or therapist were also frequently cited as making a difference.

Youth Voices on What Is Needed

“I bounced around between different friends’ places in different states from March to August of 2020. When everyone else was calling their parents and trying to figure out where they were going I just felt very alone and very much like, ‘where am I supposed to go?’” — 23-year-old aged out of foster care

Youth Voices on What Helps

“I have this support group, like advocates. I believe that without their help I would’ve been struggling more.” — 22-year-old aged out of foster care

"Two of the associate directors [on campus] were really just rock-steady adults, and particularly one of them has just been the most steady, constant presence in my life...she alone has made such a difference." — 23-year-old aged out of foster care

Meet basic needs for the many who are facing extreme hardship due to the pandemic

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Young adults aging out of foster care experience myriad challenges in meeting their basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated challenges in housing, employment, and financial stability for this population, which in turn took a toll on their mental health. Direct access to cash assistance, public benefits, digital access, and even shelter services were noted by study participants as desired resources.

Youth Voices on What Is Needed

“I lost my job so that meant that I had to be home 24/7 and with that, I couldn't pay my rent or some of my bills so that made me quite depressed.” — 22-year-old aged out of foster care

“I had no savings, I was laid off of work and I did not qualify for unemployment. There was seemingly no option for me to get supplemental income. It was just a difficult time.” — 22-year-old aged out of foster care

Youth Voices on What Helps

"[Extended Foster Care] paid for my rent so I was lucky to have housing that year." — 20-year-old in foster care

“I would say to provide more shelters for youth. It’s quite frustrating that there’s not a lot of foster homes for teens and young adults so they deal with homelessness and that’s a lot of stress. You shouldn’t have to be stressing your living situation at that age. So provide more shelter.” — 20-year-old aged out of foster care

Create paths to sustainable livelihoods so that young people have the resources to care for themselves

sustainable livelihoods

While people and households around the world suffered job losses and instability in the face of the COVID-induced economic downturn, young adults in foster care particularly felt the negative impacts of workforce exclusion and despair in maintaining their livelihoods. Research participants noted poor preparation for adulthood and loss of employment as key contributors to their difficulty during the pandemic. Maintaining employment, continuing career training or higher education, and securing virtual work were critical supports to youth who were lucky enough to have this.

Youth Voices on What Is Needed

“I didn't have independent living skills; they didn't teach me anything. After COVID, they just basically let us all go.” — 18-year-old in foster care

"With me being in foster care, I didn't have a set parent, my parent was the state. I felt like it would've been a lot better had the state taught me a lot more about financial decisions, savings, and different things like that so maybe I wouldn't have been put in the position that I was in when COVID did happen.” — 22-year-old aged out of foster care

Youth Voices on What Helps

"I now have a job and a reason to get out of bed every day." — 19-year-old in foster care

“It was nice to feel productive and I was doing something that would benefit my future.” — 21-year-old aged out of foster care

About the Participants

The Field Center team recognizes the strength and bravery of the 26 young people who took the time to share their insights with us. We hope that their experiences help generate services and interventions for others who may follow in their footsteps. We also hope that the opportunity to contribute to this project provided them with some solace about being heard, and knowing that innovators are listening.

“I just appreciate the opportunity to be able to share my story. This is the first time that I actually got to speak on how I felt as a student, as a person. You know, going through a mental health crisis but still having to work to make ends meet.” 23-year-old aged out of foster care

About the Field Center

The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research

The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research is an interdisciplinary collaboration of the University of Pennsylvania’s Schools of Social Policy & Practice, Law, Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, the Graduate School of Education, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia dedicated to improving the systemic response to victims of child abuse and neglect. By harnessing the expertise across the University of Pennsylvania, the Field Center facilitates reform through a “think outside-the-box approach.”