Youth with foster care experience face the same challenges as other young adults but often do so within the context of complex trauma histories and limited social support and monetary resources[1]. United Friends of the Children (United Friends) seeks to support young people in Los Angeles County with foster care experience during their transition to adulthood by providing them with a full spectrum of opportunities and supports in its two programs[2]:

  • The Scholars program supports young people in or transitioning from foster care during 11 years of education—7th grade through college completion—providing what they need to graduate from high school and college (e.g., tutoring, test preparation, workshops, college tours, and career development).
  • The Pathways program is delivered for 18 to 36 months to young adults ages 18 to 24, providing a full spectrum of opportunities and supports—including housing, life skills training, educational mentoring and assistance, career/vocational counseling and development, and health education and mental health services—for a successful transition to adulthood.

In spring 2017, United Friends commissioned Child Trends to conduct an independent evaluation of these two programs. The goals of the evaluation were to document the experiences of young people enrolled in the Pathways and Scholars programs and explore how program participation affects youth outcomes. A key focus of the evaluation was examining how United Friends’ relationship model—which emphasizes forging lasting, trusting ties between youth and positive adult role models—contributes to successful outcomes.

Key Findings

Results from the evaluation of the Scholars and Pathways programs show:

Program participation and experiences

  • United Friends provides young people with a strong and consistent support network during a critical period of their transition to adulthood. On average, Scholars program participants enter the program at age 14 and exit at age 18, spending just over three years in the program. Pathways participants average a year and a half in the program, typically entering at age 21 and exiting at age 22. Evaluation results indicate that United Friends counselors are successful in both developing strong, supportive, trusting relationships with the youth with whom they work, and cultivating an environment where young people feel supported by their peers and multiple United Friends staff.

Participant outcomes

  • United Friends participants feel confident that they will reach their academic and career goals, and most reported that they are faring well across multiple domains:
    • Education: Across both programs, most participants expect to complete post-secondary education or training, and most feel prepared to meet their goals. However, many cited financial barriers to completing college, including not having enough money and having to work while attending school.
    • Self-sufficiency: Across both programs, over 60 percent of college-aged participants reported that it is very likely they will have a good job by age 30. Participants did, however, report that they were likely to face barriers to employment, most commonly unstable housing and insufficient work experience. Although most participants reported having safe, stable, and affordable housing, 15 percent of both Pathways and College Scholars program participants reported having to “couch surf” in the past six months.
    • Well-being: Generally, participants reported positive socio-emotional well-being, expressing high levels of social competence, initiative taking, and goal setting, as well as moderately high levels of civic engagement. Most participants reported their physical health to be good or better. However, participants were less positive in their perceptions of their mental health. Across both physical health and mental health, younger participants appear to be faring better than older participants (Pathways and college-aged Scholars participants).
    • Relationships: Participants reported positive relationships with their peers. Middle and high school-aged participants reported moderately positive relationships with their caregivers.

Relationship between participation and outcomes

  • Results from this evaluation suggest that United Friends contributes to the socio-emotional well-being, academic success, and self-sufficiency of program participants. For Scholars participants, results from the regression analysis show that longer durations in the program (as measured by days enrolled) are significantly associated with more resources for educational success, more career planning and preparation, and increased confidence that a young person can complete college. For Pathways participants, results from the regression analysis indicate that longer durations in the program are associated with fewer perceived barriers to employment and greater perceived physical health. Additionally, participants in both programs reported that United Friends increased their knowledge about healthy relationships and their ability to apply that knowledge to their relationships; additionally, over half of participants reported that their relationships with their peers had improved since they enrolled in United Friends.
  • United Friends’ relationship model appears to be a driver of program success. Across both programs, positive participant-counselor relationships are associated with stronger ties with peers and greater social competence, as well as increased goal-setting and initiative-taking. Feeling connected to United Friends more broadly is also associated with the extent to which young people demonstrated increased civic engagement and goal-setting. Furthermore, about half of participants reported that their counselor played a big role in preparing them for adulthood.

Although the results from this evaluation are promising, it should be noted that its design was correlational in nature, which precludes us from making causal attributions regarding the program’s impact on young people’s development. Nonetheless, the results underscore the importance of United Friends’ relationship model and suggest that participation in its Scholars and Pathways programs likely contributes to the socio-emotional well-being and academic and occupational success of young people in and transitioning from the foster care system.

For more information about the results of this evaluation, see the Scholars program and Pathways program companion briefs.


[1] Foster, E.M., & Gifford, E.J. (2004). Challenges in the transition to adulthood for youth in foster care, juvenile justice, and special education. Network on Transitions to Adulthood Policy Brief. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242397012_
Challenges_in_the_Transition_to_Adulthood_for_Youth_in_Foster_Care_Juvenile
_Justice_and_Special_Education

[2] United Friends of the Children. Mission & Vision. Retrieved from https://www.unitedfriends.org/about/