Abstract: Online Discussion and Feelings on Permanency for People with Lived Experience in Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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6P Online Discussion and Feelings on Permanency for People with Lived Experience in Foster Care

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
John Fowler, Phd Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose: Permanency generally refers to enduring family situations and support for young people. Historically, the child welfare system has focused mostly on legal permanency. While legal permanency is important, people with lived experience and some researchers have pointed to the importance of other forms of permanency, including relational and cultural (Burge, 2020). To investigate how people talk and feel about these various forms of permanency, the current study focuses on an online community on Reddit centered on the experiences of people who have spent time in the foster care system. The purpose of this study is to better understand how people with lived experience feel and talk about various concepts of permanency as compared to people without lived experience in order to inform priorities and programs related to permanency planning.

Methods: The data for this study includes all posts from the public subreddit r/Ex_Foster for one year beginning March 2019. This dataset (which includes 2,389 posts from 368 different posters) was collected in a previous study and the Role, Sentiment, and Speech Acts of the posters were coded by a team of researchers (Fowler, Zachry, & McDonald, 2022). For the current study, a set of permanency-related search terms were used to filter the dataset. Then, six descriptive quantitative analyses were performed to compare the counts, percentages, and ratios of posts as broken out by Role, Sentiment, Speech Acts, and the permanency search terms themselves.

Results: People with lived experience discussed permanency 1.3x more frequently than people in other roles. When discussing permanency, those with lived experience disproportionately disclosed personal information (1.6x), made emotional expressions (1.4x), and asked questions (1.2x), while feeling more negative (1.4x) about permanency-related topics than people in other roles. Looking at individual permanency search terms, people with lived experience were more likely to discuss topics of cultural and relational permanency, and more likely to discuss those topics with negative and mixed emotions. Within posts exclusively by those with lived experience, permanency-related posts disproportionately provided informational support (1.6x), made recommendations (1.5x), and asked questions (1.4x), and were 1.3x more likely to be negative than non-permanency-related posts.

Conclusions and Implications: This analysis of naturally-occurring online discussion found that people with lived experience discussed permanency more frequently, negatively, and with higher rates of asking questions and sharing sensitive personal feelings and information than other people. Specifically, people with lived experience especially discussed topics of cultural and relational permanency more frequently and with higher rates of negative and mixed emotions than other people. Additionally, within posts by people with lived experience, permanency-related posts were more negative and included higher rates of problem solving and supporting others than non-permanency-related posts. While only representative of one online community, these findings still provide evidence that people with lived experience often conceptualize permanency differently than others, personally, and negatively. This points to the importance of including the voices of people with lived experience in permanency planning and expanding focus beyond legal permanency to include greater emphasis on cultural and relational permanency as well.