$350,000 Grant Awarded to Study Foster Youth

Psychologist Tuppett Yates will analyze the impact of new services and communication styles of social workers on the successful transition from foster care to adulthood.

Tuppett Yates

Psychologist Tuppett Yates has won a $350,000 grant to continue her study of teens who age out of foster care.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Teens who age out of foster care at 18 typically face independence with gaps in their education, no job skills and little emotional support. Half report periods of incarceration and homelessness while transitioning from foster care to adulthood, says Tuppett Yates, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

A five-year, $350,000 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation will enable Yates to continue on-going research on how youth emerging from foster care navigate young adulthood. She will assess whether state legislation that took effect Jan. 1 allowing California teens to remain in foster care until age 21 improves their chance for success, and if communication styles of social workers influence decisions of foster youth to make use of new services provided under the legislation.

Yates is one of six recipients of the William T. Grant Scholars Program award announced this month for “promising early-career researchers” from diverse disciplines. She will consult with mentors Robin DiMatteo, distinguished professor of psychology at UC Riverside, and Mark Courtney, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. DiMatteo is known internationally as an expert on doctor-patient communication and has developed a unique method of assessing communication styles. Courtney is renowned for his research in child welfare issues and policies.

The New York City-based William T. Grant Foundation funds research aimed at improving the lives of youth ages 8 to 25 in the United States.

More than 500,000 youth age out of foster care nationally every year, Yates said. About one-fourth of those are in California.

“For youth who never attain a permanent adoptive or kin placement, the risks are especially pronounced,” she said. “Youth who age out or emancipate from foster care at 18 years of age face the challenges of adulthood with few educational, material and socio-emotional resources. Cut from the moorings of state care, these youth are often brought down by the currents of adulthood.”

Assembly Bill 12 allows youth in foster care to remain in the social-service system until age 21 and provides housing, education and support from social workers previously not available. New York and Illinois offer similar services, but California is the first state to adopt such a policy under a federal program launched in 2008 by President George W. Bush.

“All of the research suggests this is best for positive youth outcomes,” Yates said. Not all eligible teens will take advantage, however, she said. “The kids who choose to stay in care may have had better experiences and relationships with their social workers. The ones who don’t stay may not have had a positive experience. A central goal of this research is to identify factors associated with youths’ decisions to opt in to extended foster care support.”

The Grant award will enable Yates to continue a longitudinal study of emancipating foster youth she began to examine three years ago — “Adapting to Aging Out”— with a $95,781 grant from the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation. Researchers followed 200 youth emancipating from foster care in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties in that study, which was among the first developmental investigations in the United States aimed at determining how teens aging out of foster care make the transition to independence.

The new study, “Settings for Success among Emancipating Foster Youth: Youth and Workers in Communication and Collaboration,” will follow a second cohort of 200 youth aging out of foster care after the implementation of AB12. Yates also will observe their social workers and will assess the impact of additional resources for housing, education and job training on how well these teens transition to independence, and the impact on their social workers.

“It’s been pretty hopeless for social workers advising these foster kids in the past because they’ve had few resources to offer,” Yates said. “I think that these social workers will be more hopeful with the new toolkit afforded by AB12 and that will translate to the youth they serve.”

The goal of the research project is to inform public policy, she said.

Yates will use a sophisticated method of coding tone of voice and nonverbal communication developed and refined by UCR psychologists Robert Rosenthal and  Robin DiMatteo, and their graduate students, to assess how foster youth respond to interactions with their emancipation coaches or social workers, and how those conversations influence their choices.

“These kids are incredibly sensitive to nonverbal cues,” she said. “Helping providers understand that it’s not just what they say, but how they say it, may make all the difference.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
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Additional Contacts

Tuppett Yates
Tel: (951) 827-4991
E-mail: tuppett.yates@ucr.edu

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