Abstract: Applying a Critical Framework to the Experiences of Youth Involved in a Multi-State Foster Care Youth Advisory Board (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Applying a Critical Framework to the Experiences of Youth Involved in a Multi-State Foster Care Youth Advisory Board

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Independence BR A, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Noor Toraif, MA, Doctoral Student, Boston University, MA
John Paul Horn, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston University, Boston, MA
Astraea Augsberger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, MA
Linda Sprague Martinez, PHD, AssociateProfessor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: Youth advisory boards (YAB) have emerged, on a federal, state, and local level to include youth voices as a vital element of decision-making processes, particularly in the context of child welfare and foster care. Past studies on foster care and child welfare have discussed the importance of YABs, and the policy impacts of youth participation in general. The literature, however, scarcely reflects on the youths’ reflections of the impact participation has on their own experiences, particularly with regards to advisory board selection processes, individual and collective youth policy impact, and experiences with each other or adult stakeholders. As such, this study investigates the following research questions: 1) How do youth experience and understand their role in youth advisory boards? 2) How do stakeholders perceive the role and impact of youth on policy-making? 3) Do YAB recruitment and selection processes reproduce existing patterns of enfranchisement/disenfranchisement?

Methods: This project examined perceptions on YAB participation, its policy impacts, and the experiential outcomes of youth and adult stakeholders. Data collection consisted of interviews with stakeholders from 6 states, including current and former foster youth, adult supporters, YAB staff, and state child welfare commissioners; observations of leadership trainings and monthly meetings; and a review of program documents. Data analysis employed an abductive process of thematic analysis, with the initial codebook being generated by reviewing the selected interviews and applying both emerging and a priori codes. The initial codebook was then applied to additional data in order to refine the codebook. To improve the rigor of the coding process, three researchers employed a coder consensus approach on selected interviews. Themes emerged from the coding process and were compared across interviews to generate the findings. 

Results: The recruitment and selection of youth advocates from the individual states favored mature and well-connected youth, as opposed to those youth who may be disenfranchised by the system. Those youth advocates serving on the board recognized their role in representing the unheard voices of youth in their states. Board members felt as though they had an ability to influence policy at the state and regional levels, including sibling rights, normalcy, and extended foster care. However, they acknowledged the challenges of navigating the bureaucracy of the child welfare system. Finally, youth reported forming meaningful connections with other youth with lived experiences and closer connections to adult supporters.

Implications: Youth advisory boards present a meaningful opportunity for youth in care to meet others with shared experiences and to advocate for their needs. However, youth who are selected to participate may not represent all voices and are often made up of the most enfranchised youth in the system. While youth who participate in the YAB are aware of their role as representatives, more can be done to improve the recruitment and selection processes and ensure that YAB participation includes the voices of the most disenfranchised youth in the child welfare system.