From Foster Care To Adulthood: Success Stories

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Youth leaving the foster care system between the ages of 18-21 traditionally face poor outcomes when transitioning into adulthood. This aging-out population encounters many challenges, including lack of adult support, financial instability, poor educational/vocational opportunities and outcomes, and lack of access to safe and affordable housing. Additionally, older youth exiting the foster care system are more likely to experience unplanned pregnancy, homelessness, unemployment, criminal justice involvement and substance use. Moreover, youth who have been in foster care are at increased risk for behavioral and mental health difficulties after leaving foster care (Courtney el al., 2007; Stein, 2006; Freundlich & Avery, 2008). Yet, despite the preponderance of evidence for poor outcomes and the challenges faced by this population, a number of youth leave the foster care system and are able to lead satisfying, productive lives. This study will explore the trajectory of youth in foster care, outlining the social, economic and psychological barriers often faced by these youth, while also charting the experiences of those who have successfully exited this system of care. The study will employ qualitative research methods to explore the nuances of successful transition for a small sample of youth who have fared well. Twelve youth identified as successfully transitioned by their case workers will be interviewed. The sample will include older youth, ages 18-26, who have already aged-out of foster care. The participants will be selected from among participants in a (state funded?) program aimed at helping foster care youth achieve independence.


“(A) man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, "What are you doing?" "I'm saving the starfish," the child replied. "Why waste your time? There are so many you can't save them all so what does it matter?" argued the man. Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water “It matters to this one," the child explained”. (A Single Starfish by: Loren Eiseley)

Statement of the Problem, Purpose of the Study and Significance

Research on youth transitioning out of the foster care system has identified a number of unfavorable outcomes, including unplanned pregnancy, homelessness, unemployment, criminal justice involvement, lack of education and substance use (Barth, 1990; Collins, 2001; Courtney, Piliavin, Grogan-Kaylor, & Nesmith, 2001; Courtney, et al. 2005; Lemon, Hines, & Merdinger, 2004; Keller, Cusick & Courtney, 2007; Avery & Freundlich, 2008). Yet little is known about the reasons why some foster care youth are able to defy the odds and successfully transition out of the system and lead independent adult lives. What are they lived experiences of youth in foster care and what trajectory do they follow upon exiting this system? How are some youth exiting foster care able to successfully negotiate the aging-out process and move into productive adult lives?

This study will explore the experiences of a small sample of ...
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