Research studies demonstrate that a large majority of all children and youth in the foster care system (20% to 75%) experience multiple placement moves. Because of placement instability, these children and youth are more likely to experience higher levels of mental health and behavioral problems, are at greater risk for engaging in juvenile delinquency and exhibit low academic achievement. Current research studies predominantly focus on the kinds of behaviors the children and youth may exhibit to increase the chances of a placement disruption. However, there is limited information from the youth themselves about their own perspectives on experiencing multiple placement moves. Also, recommendations from youth about what personnel, service providers and policy makers could implement to improve child welfare practices are extremely limited. This paper helps fill this gap by examining the recommendations foster care alumni have for how youth in care, caregivers, and caseworkers can best handle a placement move.
Data collection consisted of 42 semi-structured interviews with former foster youth who had aged out of the foster care system and experienced multiple moves. Participants met the following criteria: 1) 18+ years old; 2) no longer in care; and 3) had lived in at least two or more placements while in foster care.
Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using the constant comparative method. Two levels of coding were performed to generate accurate and descriptive analysis, classify and synthesize the data. This resulted in cohesive themes that appeared in all interviews.
Study participants predominantly included people of color (86%), between the ages of 18 and 23 (87%), 51% identified as female, 44% identified as male, and 5% identified as transgender. Moving in foster care was a common event; 55% of participants experienced 2-16 moves and 45% had 17-56 placement moves. These participants had high levels of unemployment (67%) and the majority had not attended college (81%). Participants on average spent 10 years in foster care and all of them emancipated from care.
For current foster youth, participants had several recommendations: expect moves to be frequent and emotionally stressful, develop strategies to communicate their emotional needs to caregivers and caseworkers, and prepare for emancipation. For caregiver recommendations, most of the participants thought that a close emotional bond with the caregivers was essential, and that caregivers need to assist youth in adjusting to a new placement, as moving is emotionally difficult. Many participants were also adamant about how caregivers should not think of the youth as a paycheck but as a family member in their own home. For the caseworkers, youth should be more actively involved in the placement decision-making process, develop close relationships with youth and monitor placements more closely.
Conclusion and Implications:
These finding provide a more nuanced understanding of how these youths are impacted by multiple placement moves and offer specific changes for child welfare policies and practices. These participants want adults in their lives to be supportive, include youth as active participants in the moving process, and establish emotional connections with youth.