“They Lay Down the Foundation and then They Leave Room for Us to Build the House”: A Visual Qualitative Exploration of Young Adults' Experiences of Transitional Housing

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 3:50 PM
Preservation Hall Studio 4, Second Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Susanna R. Curry, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura S. Abrams, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Purpose: Young adults who age out of public care face numerous challenges, including housing. While a growing body of literature has focused on aging out of foster care and reentry from the juvenile justice system, little is known about the experience of locating and maintaining support through transitional housing. This study posed the following research questions: 1) How do emerging adults visually and narratively describe their experiences of locating and maintaining stable housing after leaving foster care/ the juvenile justice system; and 2) What does it mean to these young adults to find a place to call “home”?

Methods: Fourteen residents or recent alumni from two transitional housing programs in Los Angeles County participated in photo elicitation study. The sample was predominantly female (8 female; 6 male), Black/African American (7 Black/African American, 5 Bi-racial, 2 Hispanic/Latino and 1 White) and ranged in age from 18-24. Ten participants had been in foster care, two in the juvenile justice system, and two had been in both systems. The study sites were chosen purposively and young adults were eligible to participate if they had been in the program for at least one week. Data collection occurred in three steps: 1) one semi-structured interview; 2) a two-week period of photography by participants; and 3) a second in-depth follow-up interview that focused on narrating the participants’ photos. Analysis included inductive coding and constant comparison of themes across participants. Methods to increase rigor included investigator triangulation and multiple interviews.

Results: Young people described transitional housing as a chance to start over and rebuild after an often unstable childhood. They described steps they took to surround themselves with peers who had positive attitudes and motivation. They found that being in a positive environment allowed them to maintain focus and sacrifice short-term happiness for longer-term goals. While many leaned on program staff for support, they also took pride for their autonomy. However, their lives were also characterized by a “juggling act,” meaning learning to balance work with school and housing program meetings in order to keep their housing. Many were tentative about the future and their preparation for independence.  

Implications:  Prior literature on aging out of foster care and reentry from the juvenile justice system has described these experiences as quite challenging. This study underscores the importance of supportive housing during this transitional period. Young people’s descriptions of supportive housing programs highlighted the positive impact of peers and staff in the program, the importance of their housing stability in building self-sufficiency, and the “juggling” act involved in maintaining housing while working on long-term goals.  Policies that extend support for these young people in the transition to adulthood are heading in the right direction; however this study suggests that social workers may need to provide additional support around the stress of balancing multiple demands in a time-limited setting.