Abstract: A Bad Combination: Lived Experiences of Youth Involved in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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A Bad Combination: Lived Experiences of Youth Involved in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Sherri Simmons-Horton, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio
Background and Purpose: There is an established link between foster care dependency and juvenile delinquency. Youth with concurrent involvement as foster care dependents and adjudicated juvenile offenders, often called dual-status youth, are at an increased risk for negative outcomes as they transition out of these systems and into adulthood, including homelessness, and involvement in the adult criminal justice system. Interest in understanding the phenomenon of dual involvement of youth has grown in the last decade, with a focus on the challenges associated with the dual-status population, with particular attention to race and gender disparities, the importance of multi-system collaboration, and systemic foster care factors contributing to juvenile delinquency. However, few studies have explored the lived experiences of dual-status youth. Evidence shows that if we have knowledge about dual-status youth, from their voices, the better we can serve this population. To address the gap in our knowledge, the aim of this study is to explore the lived experiences of former dual-status youth and to understand their perceptions of their unique challenges in these systems.

Methods: Ten in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with Black and Hispanic former dual-status youth, between the ages of 18-24. Participants shared their lived experiences of involvement in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Former dual-status youth were recruited using a mix of snowball and convenience sampling and emailing to organizations serving youth and young adults with previous juvenile justice and child welfare involvement. Data was analyzed using a phenomenological approach using semi-structured interviews to elicit participant views on their lived experiences in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Further explored were their perceptions on barriers preventing their normal adolescent opportunities, and healthy transition into adulthood. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded and analyzed.

Results: Findings elucidate the lived experiences of former youth involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems and their perceptions of barriers unique to their circumstances. The analytical process gleaned commonalities of participants lived experiences of the dual-status phenomenon. Nearly all accounts of the former dual-status youth highlighted four key experiences: the foster care to juvenile justice pathway, the experience of multiple placement moves, common placement in congregate settings, and negative experiences in these placement types. Further, their shared experiences of the dual-status phenomenon were compounded by their racial status.

Conclusion and Implications: Literature on dual-status youth continues to emerge and the focus on the lived experiences of dual-status youth remains neglected. Results from this study suggests that barriers for the dual-status populations stem from systemic processes, largely within the foster care system. Findings further suggest the need for further qualitative studies with youth, actively dually involved, so their experiences are explored and addressed with expediency. Lastly, researchers should investigate race and gender disparities among dual-status youth, as they are at a heightened disadvantage while involved in two systems.