Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, Ph.D.


During the transition to adulthood, youth often rely on the people in their life for support. However, for transition-aged foster youth, these supports may not be available or may look different than supports available to youth in the general population. Relationships with supportive adults have been found to help former foster youth transition to adulthood, but little is known about the adults youth have in their network. Foster youth who report increased levels of social capital have been shown to experience higher levels of success in young adulthood. However, as former foster youth transition to adulthood, a lack of in-depth understanding of supportive adults and social networks creates difficulties identifying—and addressing—potential gaps in their social network. This study aims to gain a better understanding of how social networks influence social support and access to and mobilization of social capital as youth leave the foster care system.

A social network assessment based on two existing measures was created to attain a better understanding of the social networks of transition-aged foster youth. The new social network tool was piloted with a group of young adults prior to use in this study. This social network tool allowed for an in-depth understanding of social networks, social support, and social capital as three distinct constructs. The social network characteristics included: on whom the youth relies for support, how the relationship developed, and the closeness of the relationship. Social support included: questions on the type of support available to youth (resources, emotional, advice, or constructive criticism), as well as the social support domains (housing, education, employment, relationships, and transportation). Social capital was examined based on questions about network members’ occupation(s) and frequency of communication between the youth and each network member.

Univariate, Bivariate, and Multivariate analyses were utilized to examine social network characteristics, foster care history, social support, and social capital. The mean network size of sample participants was 7.1 and the range was 0–36. A relationship between placement type and social network members was found; indicating that youth in congregate care were more likely to have formal (social service related) networks than youth not in congregate care. A relationship between having more informal network members and housing stability was found; indicating that different network members may help youth with different young adult outcomes. A relationship between both access to, and mobilization of, social capital was found based on the type of social network members (formal, informal, familial-biological, familial-foster).

Based on the findings of the current study, research and practice implications are discussed. These include the utility of social network analysis with transition-aged foster youth, future lines of inquiry, and suggested practice/policy shifts.


© Rachel Rosenberg

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Date of Submission


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