Questions for Colleen Nugent, Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Demographic, Health Care, and Fertility-Related Characteristics of Adults Aged 18-44 Who Have Ever Been in Foster Care: United States, 2011-2017,”
Q: Why did you decide to do a report on adults who have ever been in foster care?
CN: The National Survey of Family Growth is one of the few U.S. nationally representative surveys that collects information on having ever been in foster care during childhood from adult respondents across the full reproductive age span. Combining that with other content specific to the NSFG provides a rare opportunity to get nationally representative estimates on how outcomes related to health service access and use and fertility related milestones might differ between those who had ever been in foster care and those who had not.
Q: How did the data vary by adults who have ever been in foster care?
CN: Women and men who had been in foster care had lower levels of educational attainment, had higher percentages receiving public assistance in the past year, and were less likely to be currently working or attending school than adults who had never been in foster care. Those who had been in foster care were less likely to have private health insurance, were more likely to experience time without health insurance in the past year, and were less likely to use a private doctor’s office as their usual place of care. Adults ever in foster care also had higher probabilities of first sexual intercourse and first births at younger ages than those never in foster care.
Q: Was there a specific finding in the data that surprised you?
CN: Although those who had never been in foster care were more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than those who had ever been in foster care, the rates of those completing some college were actually more similar for both groups.
Q: What were some of the limitations when interpreting the data?
CN: There are several limitations. One is that we didn’t have information on what ages respondents were in foster care, how long ago they exited, and what types of foster care settings they were in—whether those were relative or nonrelative family foster homes, group homes, or institutional settings. Differences in outcomes could vary by the timing of foster care in a child’s development, and also by the type of foster care setting. Another is that these analyses are bivariate and cross-sectional and cannot be used to assess causation. This means that outcomes may not be due solely to foster care itself and may be linked with characteristics of those entering foster care that preceded their experience in the system.
Q: Will you have an update to this report in the future?
CN: The number of respondents who have ever been in foster care is relatively small in our survey and we needed to combine data over several file releases to be able to produce reliable estimates. If we update this report in the future, it will require waiting for several more data releases that we can combine to have a large enough sample of respondents ever in foster care.