Methods: Fourteen in-depth structured interviews were conducted. Participants were recruited using snowball sampling. The researchers generated an initial list of prospective participants based upon research and practice experiences. The participants were interviewed using video conferencing. The average interview length was 90 minutes. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and coded using Nvivo12. Data analysis was guided by grounded theory and the principles of Braun and Clarke’s six-phase process to conduct thematic analysis.
Results: Participants were between the ages of 25 to 54. The sample was predominantly female (8 females, 5 males, and 1 participant who described himself as male, gay, and queer), single (7 single, 6 married, and 1 in a relationship), African Americans (10 African American, 1 African American/Native American, 1 Puerto Rican, 1 Bi-racial, and 1 Mixed) with MSWs (9 MSW only, 3 MSW/PhD, 1 MSW/DSW, and 1 MSW/enrolled in a PhD program).
Participants reflected on their first memories of foster care and themes of confusion, sibling separation, and trash bags emerged. Perceived benefits of foster care included themes of positive life experience, breaking the cycle, financial benefits, basic physiological needs, and environmental change. A magic wand discussion yielded themes of biological family relationships and embracing foster care experiences. Findings regarding support needed for foster youth included the themes of consistent support person, individual stories, and pre-college programs.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight the power of early experiences in foster care in shaping the identity of social work professionals. Implications include the need for additional training of foster parents to provide trauma-informed care, work with youth to recognize, embrace and reframe their foster care experiences, and revise policies that support the on-going connections to biological families. Future research should explore the experiences of former foster youth who choose other career paths.