For the 20,000 youth that exit the foster care system each year in the United States, educational achievement is difficult to attain as they navigate the transition into adulthood with limited supports and resources (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021). These youth are three times more likely to drop out of high school than their counterparts. Only 50% graduate from high school, and only 3% obtain a college degree (Courtney et al., 2011). Current efforts to support this population primarily focus on individual, relational, and economic factors with less consideration for the impact of community characteristics on educational outcomes. This study utilized Catalano and Hawkins' (1996) Social Development Model as a theoretical framework for an examination of the county-level percentage of youth who demonstrated educational achievement at the age of 18 and ten county-level risk and protective factors. Secondary data for a sample of counties within Florida (n = 57, 55, 55, 52, & 55) were gathered from multiple government sources from the years 2018 to 2022 respectively, and then merged and linked at the county level, allowing for separate analysis before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic for each year. Sample sizes varied across years and ranged from 52 to 57. Four linear regression models were tested for each year in the sample except for 2021 as no factors were found to have a significant association with educational achievement in 2021 at the bivariate level. Results varied by year with county-level poverty having a significant positive association at the bivariate level with educational achievement in the years 2018, 2019, and 2022 and significantly predicted educational achievement in 2019 in a linear regression model. High school dropout rates also had a significant positive correlation with educational achievement in the years 2018 and 2022 and unemployment rates had a significant positive correlation with achievement in 2018. Participation in organized sports and school band had significant negative associations with educational achievement in the years 2018, 2020, and 2022 at the bivariate level and regression models revealed participation in organized sports and school band significantly predicted educational achievement in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Given that the effects had an unexpected direction, findings from this study do not support the use of SDM in understanding county-level educational outcomes for youth exiting foster care. However, results point to the need to test alternative frameworks, such as those that suggest limited economic opportunities as drivers of educational enrollment and other frameworks that emphasize the negative effects that a lack of social capital can have on youth in environments where participation in extracurricular activities is valued. The combination of this county-level study and past studies from the individual level point to a need for future exploration through multi-level modeling, which could disentangle individual effects of risk and protective factors from contextual effects of the community.


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Graduation Date





Steen, Julie


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Community Innovation and Education


School of Public Administration

Degree Program

Public Affairs; Social Work


CFE0009750; DP0027858





Release Date

August 2023

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)