Theses Doctoral

"I Really Don't Need You to Talk for Me. I Can Talk for Myself" -- A Phenomenology of Participating in Life Decisions While in Foster Care

Van Alst, Donna M.

This study explores the lived experiences of foster youth in participating in decisions about their lives while in care. Using a research methodology grounded in hermeneutic phenomenology, the study sought to identify the "essence" of this experience through careful analysis of the self-reported experiences of eight former foster youth. Fifteen themes emerged from the interviews with those young adults: (1) No Control; (2) Being Voiceless; (3) A Focus on Now; (4) Not Being Heard; (5) Settling; (6) Living a Public Life; (7) I Can Talk for Myself; (8) Being Spoken For; (9) Powerlessness; (10) Not Knowing; (11) No One Cares; (12) Alone; (13) Confidence; (14) Broken Promises; and (15) Acting Out. Some of these themes -- such as "No Control," "Being Voiceless," "Not Being Heard," "I Can Talk for Myself" and "Being Spoken For" -- echo findings from earlier literature that identified a lack of meaningful opportunities for foster youth to participate in important decisions about their lives while in care. A second group of themes -- "Settling" and "Acting Out" -- captured the study participants' experience in reacting to having few opportunities to contribute to decisions about their lives while in care. The themes in the final group -- "A Focus On Now," "Living a Public Life," "Powerlessness," "An Unclear System," "No One Cares," "Alone," "Confidence" and "Broken Promises" -- provide a more nuanced understanding of the experience of being involved in decisions about one's life while in foster care. Findings from this study suggest that foster children would benefit from having increased opportunities to be involved in decisions about their lives while they are in care. Such opportunities can be facilitated by ensuring frequent, meaningful interaction between foster children and their caseworkers and law guardians; encouraging foster children to attend court proceedings; moving toward a child-centered practice paradigm in child welfare services; respecting the due process right of children; and improving legal representation in dependency cases.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Burnette, Jacqueline D.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2012