Methods: Using a narrative approach, 15 participants completed semi-structured interviews that asked about their self-defined goals for adulthood at transition, their present goals, the supportive relationships in their lives from transition to time of interview, and the types of support they received from their support networks. Case studies were developed from these interviews to determine how support was used to help care leavers achieve their goals. Participants’ perceptions of change over time in these relationships were also analyzed in order to determine how enduring these relationships were as care leavers grew older.
Findings: At time of transition, care leavers named systems-involved persons, biological family, school-involved persons, and community members as sources of support. Type of support at transition was largely role dependent; caseworkers provided mostly tangible, informational, and appraisal support while the other relationships in care leavers’ networks provided mostly emotional and appraisal support. As care leavers grew older, sources of support remaining were largely former foster parents, former foster siblings, biological siblings, and youth advisory board connections. These relationships generally provided emotional and appraisal support. Disconnections in relationships were largely the result of moving, lost contact, or professionals moving on from their formal roles.
There was a clear connection to goal achievement for care leavers who had access to tangible and informational support. Care leavers who described receiving tangible and informational support (referrals to resource organizations) generally fared better in achieving their goals than participants who described only receiving appraisal and emotional support from important relationships in their lives.
Discussion: Care leavers rely on a variety of supportive relationships as they prepare to enter self-sufficient adulthood. The types of support given by the supportive relationships in the lives of care leavers has a lasting impact on how successful care leavers are at achieving their goals. Systems-involved relationships, particularly those with caseworkers, and other sources of tangible or informational support represent more utility at transition than just emotional and appraisal support; care leavers who lacked tangible or informational resources described a more difficult period of transition in adulthood. These findings suggest that care leavers require more support around tangible resources at the start and relationships may change as these needs become less necessary or as care leavers age out of resources. More study is needed to fully examine the evolution of supportive networks of care leavers as they move into adulthood.