Building Positive Self-Image in Adolescents in Foster Care: The Use of Role Models in an Interactive Group Approach

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In a previous article (Yancey, 1992), the literature on identity development in individuals from socially devalued racial and ethnic groups was summarized. It was postulated that the social maladaptation of adolescents in residential group foster care is reflective of identity disturbances created by the negative images of African-Americans and Latinos perpetuated by the dominant society and unfiltered by optimal parental racial/ethnic socialization. The present article describes the development of a pilot preventive mental health intervention, the PRIDE (Personal and Racial/ethnic Identity Development and Enhancement) program, designed to provide components of parenting that are necessary for promoting positive self-image in ethnically marginalized adolescents and that are typically lacking in the group foster care milieu. PRIDE utilizes successful, ethnically relevant role models in interactive group sessions to create a significant cognitive and emotional experience for teens. While the utility of role mod eling for at-risk youth is widely accepted, there is little research on the packaging, delivery, and influence of this intervention modality. This study demonstrates the feasibility of a "hybrid" role-modeling approach (intermediate in intensity of exposure and cost between one-to-one mentoring and career-day programs). Implications for further research on this type of intervention are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

The need for out-of-home care for children and adolescents is reaching crisis proportions worldwide, reflecting the deterioration of traditional societal structures and exhaustion of social resources. In the United States, a half-million young people are currently in out-of-home care (Nazario, 1993), primarily because of abuse and neglect (Schor, 1989). The process of foster care placement, maintenance, and discharge for already vulnerable youths is disruptive and demanding at best; it is traumatic for many (Nazario, 1993; Halfon et al., 1992; Barbanel, 1990; Landa, 1990; Cimons, 1989; Garcia, 1989; Wiehe, 1987; Rest & Watson, 1984).

Studies indicate an extremely high prevalence of emotional disturbances among young people in foster care (estimates range from 35% to 85% of adolescents in care), particularly those in group home or institutional placement (e.g., Porter & Torney-Purta, 1987; Hochstadt et al., 1987; Hogan & Siu, 1988; Hornby & Collins, 1981; McIntyre & Keesler, 1986). These teens are at increased risk for such potentially adverse outcomes as unintended pregnancy and childbearing, educational underachievement/discontinuation, substance abuse and, ultimately, homelessness and more individually and socially costly forms of dependency (i.e., relegation to the criminal justice, welfare, or mental health systems).

While in foster care, the higher rates of maladaptive behaviors among these young people also result in disproportionate consumption of public health resources. For example, adolescents in foster care comprise 49% of users of Medi-Cal (Medicaid) reimbursed mental health services, even though they represent less than 4% of the population eligible for MediCal. Their adjusted mental health service utilization rate is twenty-eight times that of their peers not in foster care (Halfon et al., 1992). The leading diagnostic categories under which services are provided include adjustment disorders, conduct disorders, and anxiety disorders.

The problems of adolescents in foster care do not arise from genetic defects or organic pathology; rather, they are situationally rooted. A previous study (Yancey, 1992) has detailed these maladaptive out comes, summarized the literature on identity formation in individuals from socially devalued racial and ethnic groups, and discussed the implications for a particular segment of at-risk adolescents in foster care--those in residential group homes. It was posited that the social maladaptation of these predominantly urban, minority-status teens is reflective of identity disturbances created by the negative images of African-Americans and Latinos perpetuated by the dominant society and unfiltered by optimal parental racial/ethnic socialization. …