Abstract: "I Wanna Give Her Her Space": An Exploration of How Young Adults Exiting Foster Care Navigate Living with Family after Aging out (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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"I Wanna Give Her Her Space": An Exploration of How Young Adults Exiting Foster Care Navigate Living with Family after Aging out

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brenda A. Tully, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Victoria Copeland, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Dominique Mikell, MA, Student and Graduate Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Young people formerly in foster care experience greater housing insecurity than their peers in the U.S. Further, young people who age out of care are at greater risk for experiencing homelessness than youth placed in care who later reunified with a parent. Despite not reunifying with family prior to exiting care, one strategy some young people use to secure housing after exit is to return to live with a biological parent or other family member. Little prior research explores this phenomenon. This qualitative study explores the dynamics between young people and their families as they attempt to secure places to live after foster care.

Methods: The first author conducted 5 audio-recorded focus groups, each 90-120 minutes, with 2-8 participants (N=18) who aged out of foster care. Using purposive and multiple-entry snowball sampling, the first author recruited young adults, ages 18-26, initially from two organizations serving foster care alumni in Los Angeles. The research team analyzed transcribed data using ATLAS.ti8. Through an iterative coding process that included initial open coding and focused coding procedures, we found several common phenomena across all focus groups. One important phenomenon was that participants described turning to family members for housing as they transitioned out of care. To explore this, we individually coded two transcripts focusing on families as facilitators or barriers to housing. Together, we discussed our coding and memos and developed a codebook to guide analyses of the remaining transcripts. Through further analyses using network diagrams and flow charts of focused codes and categories, we identified three key subthemes. Group member interactions generated insights into processes participants used to navigate living with family as young adults.

Findings: 1) Instability related to earlier family disruptions remained unresolved. Participants described how their parents’ prior and sometimes current experiences with incarceration, alcohol or drug use, medical or mental health conditions manifested in current difficulties providing or sharing housing with their young adult children. 2) Young people recognized the difficulties their family members faced and often chose to strike out on their own, even when family members welcomed them to stay longer. Participants cited leaving family living situations to make space for another family member, alleviate stress on grandparents, attend to their own parental obligations, and escape exploitive situations. 3) In extreme circumstances, young people drew on lessons of survival gained from their own tenacity and biological and “street” family. Survival lessons encompassed three realms: a) spirituality and faith, b) immersion in music or nature, and c) practical strategies for navigating barriers.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight the continued importance of family to many young people who age out of care and the dynamics between young people and family as related to housing (in)stability. Their ongoing relationships underscore the need for social change within the foster care system. We must create more innovative supports for young people and their families that acknowledge their familial ties despite separation; and offer such supports both while young people are still in care and in the years immediately following their exits.