Methods This study employed retrospective life history methods in semi-structured interviews of former foster youth between the ages of 22 and 35. Twelve participants completed three interviews each, lasting between 90-120 minutes. Participants were asked to place significant events on a timeline, spanning from birth to the present; complete a personal network map; and nominate one “support” person from foster care for a stakeholder interview (n=6). First, the timelines and narrative data were integrated into a single database. Second, the research team read and coded 42 professionally transcribed interviews ((12x3)+6), meeting weekly to develop a codebook and resolve discrepancies. In this step, a process of constant comparison was used to explore themes and identify conceptual patterns in data within and across interviews. In the final step, conceptual categories and thematic concepts were refined and mapped within and across six developmental periods from birth to adulthood.
Results The most common ‘clusters of life events’ derived from young people’s perspectives, are presented in a visual model representing a depiction of the analysis. Though there is variance and diversity in experience, one thread that weaves through each life history is cumulative adversity. Elements of young people’s history of adversity were present before they were born and accumulated in each developmental period thereafter. While a majority made significant progress towards independent living in the transition to adulthood, unresolved trauma stemming from cumulative adversities made it a challenge to maintain progress.
Discussion/Implications The findings from this study raise important questions about existing efforts aimed at identifying and addressing childhood trauma histories of young people while in foster care. The participants spent between 5 and 21 years in foster care, and from their perspectives childhood experiences of trauma were misunderstood, ignored, and avoided. The interviews and tools aided in the process of recounting events and their meaning, but most wished they had had greater clarity around these experiences and their impacts earlier in their lives.