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Former foster youth research how to help peers succeed

Lauretta Schaefer and Professor Doris Houston sitting

Lauretta Schaefer and Professor Doris Houston

Lauretta Schaefer is a dance education major who spent her early childhood in the foster care system before being adopted. Now she is working with Social Work Professor Doris Houston, director of Illinois State’s Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies, to investigate the factors that influence academic success for Illinois students who have spent time in foster care.

The center received a $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation last year to partner with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on the two-year study. Houston is leading a research team that includes Schaefer; student researchers Marquise Brown, LaShawnda Kilgore, and Verneice Prince; Social Work Professors Deneca Avant and Christopher Gjesfjeld; and Communication Professor Aimee Miller-Ott.

The study grew out of a welcome reception hosted by the School of Social Work for former foster care students attending Illinois State.

“We were interested in developing support programming for this population of students, but we wanted to target our efforts by first conducting a ‘Needs and Assets Assessment’ to get a better idea of what students want and most need to succeed in college,” Houston said.

“Education is the great equalizer, and we want to do research that will impact society.”—Doris Houston

The study is examining the social, emotional, and academic lives of 350 former foster youth who receive DCFS scholarships to attend Illinois institutions. The researchers are conducting two surveys through the Spencer Foundation Grant, and they also plan to interview 32 students through a second grant funded by the Administrative Offices of the Illinois Courts.

According to data gathered from the first survey, the students displayed high levels of resilience as evidenced by self-confidence, resourcefulness, and excitement about attending college. However, they were lacking in time-management and study skills.

Schaefer said DCFS could do a better job of preparing foster youth for college while they are in high school. “I don’t think that I can come as a freshman, and you can suddenly fix my poor study habits,” she said.

The researchers are hoping to find ways to boost the college admission and graduation rates for foster youth. Several studies have shown that the graduation rate for foster youth is between 4–6 percent on average, Houston said.

“We are conducting action-oriented research,” Houston said. “Education is the great equalizer, and we want to do research that will impact society.”

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