Aging out: Youths’ perspectives on foster care and the transition to independence

From Qualitative Social Work

Former foster youth experience unemployment, homelessness, criminal justice system involvement, and early parenthood at higher rates than young adults in the general American population. Former foster youth seem to be particularly vulnerable during the transition from foster care to independence. This study used critical ethnography to engage youth in sharing their perspectives on the process of ‘aging out’ of foster care. Youths expressed anxiety about their subjective experiences of ‘aging out’, including economic challenges and housing instability, loss of social support, and pressure to be self-reliant. Youths’ narratives during the early stages of transition from foster care provide insights for professionals, policy makers, and future research.

Abstract

Foster youth in the United States face significant barriers in a transition to independence which is markedly abrupt compared to the ‘emerging adulthood’ that is expected of most young adults. While many of the difficulties that foster youth face in this transition are known at the larger demographic level, first-person narratives of the process of ‘aging out’ of foster care are largely missing from academic literature. To date, most qualitative studies rely on methods that are not grounded in trust-based relationships between researchers and youth (e.g. hit-and-run focus groups, interviews conducted by research assistants unknown to youth, indirect assessment of youths’ emotional states). In an attempt to advance youths’ own narratives, we used critical ethnography to engage youth in sharing their perspectives on the process of ‘aging out’ of foster care. Youths expressed anxiety about their subjective experiences of ‘aging out’, including economic challenges and housing instability, loss of social support, and pressure to be self-reliant. Youths’ narratives during the early stages of transition from foster care provide insights for professionals, policy makers, and future research.

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Article details
Cunninghman, M., & Diversi, M. (2012). Aging out: Youths’ perspectives on foster care and the transition to independence Qualitative Social Work DOI: 10.1177/1473325012445833

     
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