unlimited access with print and download

Free

Continue searching

A phenomenological study: The lived experience of former foster youth attending a four-year college in southern California

Dissertation
Author: Dora Yiu Lam Lee
Abstract:
This qualitative study examined the lived experience of eight individuals attending a four-year college who were all part of a campus support program for former foster youth. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand and explore the lived experiences of these unique college students that have gone through the foster care system. This study gives voice to a community of students that not only survived various forms of abuse and/or neglect during their childhood, they negate the nation's trend of low high school graduation rates and low college attendance rates among former foster youth. These students are success stories. The phenomenon of being a foster youth is told through the students' narratives. The narratives convey stories about their experiences in foster care system, their journey as foster youths and how they came about being one of the few that made it into college. Twelve themes summarizing their collective experience emerged from the student narratives: Feeling Alone, Wanting to Be Normal, Growing Up Fast, Powerless, Missing Links, Social Worker(s), That One Person, Summer Bridge, RS Program, Turning 21, Not Wanting to be Like Parent(s) and Giving Back.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ii

Abstract vii

Chapter 1

Research Problem 1

Deficiencies in the Literature 3

Importance of the Study 4

Purpose 5

Phenomenology 6

Definition of Terms 8

Preview 9

Chapter 2

An Overview of the Child Welfare System 11

Child Welfare System 11

Going Through the Child Welfare System 13

Juvenile Dependency Court 14

Figure 1: Going Through the Child Welfare System 15

An Overview of Foster Care 16

History of Foster Care in the United States 16

Foster Care Today 17

Current Trend in Foster Care 18

Educational Outcomes 19

“Aging-Out” of Foster Care 22

Accessing Postsecondary Education 24

Early Intervention Programs for Underrepresented Youth 24

Foster Youth Access to Higher Education 26

Theoretical Perspectives Used in Student Services Research 28

Resilience Theory 29

Transition Theory 32

Student Integration Model 36

Not Utilizing Conventional Theory 36

Summary 37

Chapter 3

Methodology 39

Development of Phenomenology 39

Orientations in Phenomenology 42

Phenomenology as a Methodology 44

Summary 46

iv Chapter 4

Methods 47

Site Selection 47

Protection of Human Subjects 49

Purposive Sampling Procedures 50

Data Collection 51

Interview Protocol 54

Data Analysis 55

Credible Validity 58

Summary 59

Chapter 5

Individual Life Stories 60

The Lived Experience of Tobias Anderson 62

Personal and Family Background 62

Foster Care Placement(s) 63

Foster Care Experience 65

Pathway to College 67

College 68

RS Program 69

Beyond College 70

The Lived Experience of Darryl 72

Personal and Family Background 72

Foster Care Placement(s) 72

Foster Care Experience 74

Pathway to College 77

College 81

RS Program 84

Beyond College 86

The Lived Experience of Michael 87

Personal and Family Background 87

Foster Care Placement(s) 88

Foster Care Experience 90

Pathway to College 91

College 93

RS Program 96

Beyond College 97

The Lived Experience of Mantonious 98

Personal and Family Background 98

Foster Care Placement(s) 98

Foster Care Experience 100

Pathway to College 103

College 107

RS Program 109

Beyond College 110

113

v The Lived Experience of Sky Personal and Family Background 113

Foster Care Placement(s) 113

Foster Care Experience 114

Pathway to College 117

College 118

RS Program 120

Beyond College 122

The Lived Experience of Shannon Marie 124

Personal and Family Background 124

Foster Care Placement(s) 124

Foster Care Experience 125

Pathway to College 128

College 129

RS Program 131

Beyond College 132

The Lived Experience of Jasmine 135

Personal and Family Background 135

Foster Care Placement(s) 136

Foster Care Experience 136

Pathway to College 142

College 144

RS Program 150

Beyond College 151

The Lived Experience of Veronica 153

Personal and Family Background 153

Foster Care Placement(s) 158

Foster Care Experience 159

Pathway to College 164

College 167

RS Program 168

Beyond College 170

Summary 172

Chapter 6

Findings 173

Student Profiles 173

Table 1: Student Demographics 174

Feeling Alone 175

Wanting to Be Normal 179

Growing Up Fast 181

Powerless 183

Missing Links 185

Social Worker(s) 188

That One Person 192

Summer Bridge 198

vi RS Program 201

Turning 21 206

Not Wanting to Be Like Their Parent(s) 208

Giving Back 210

Summary 213

Chapter 7

Discussion 215

Summary of Findings 215

Implications 217

Limitations 217

Feedback for the RS Program and CSU-A 218

Feedback for the Foster Care System 221

Feedback for K-12 223

Directions for Future Research 224

Summary 225

Chapter 8

Epilogue 227

References 236

Appendices

Appendix A: Informed Consent 245

Appendix B: Recruitment Letter 248

Appendix C: Interview Protocol 249

vii Abstract This qualitative study examined the lived experience of eight individuals attending a four-year college who were all part of a campus support program for former foster youth. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand and explore the lived experiences of these unique college students that have gone through the foster care system. This study gives voice to a community of students that not only survived various forms of abuse and/or neglect during their childhood, they negate the nation’s trend of low high school graduation rates and low college attendance rates among former foster youth. These students are success stories. The phenomenon of being a foster youth is told through the students’ narratives. The narratives convey stories about their experiences in foster care system, their journey as foster youths and how they came about being one of the few that made it into college. Twelve themes summarizing their collective experience emerged from the student narratives: Feeling Alone, Wanting to Be Normal, Growing Up Fast, Powerless, Missing Links, Social Worker(s), That One Person, Summer Bridge, RS Program, Turning 21, Not Wanting to be Like Parent(s) and Giving Back.

1 Chapter One Research Problem Foster youths are from abused and neglected homes, relegated to a powerless position in society and are at the will of the courts (Bass, Shields & Behrman, 2004; Blome, 1997; Hochman, Hochman & Miller, 2004; Pecora, Williams, Kessler, Hiripi, O’Brien, Emerson, Herrick & Torres, 2006). Once a youth ends up in the hands of the child welfare system, his or her future becomes unpredictable and unstable (Blome, 1997; Williams, McWilliams, Mainieri, Pecora & La Belle, 2006), where anything can happen. Best-case scenario, the youth reunites with his or her birth parent(s). Worst- case scenario, the youth drifts from one foster home to another until he or she emancipates at the age of eighteen and ends up in prison or on the streets (Blome, 1997; Davis, 2006; Merdinger, Hines, Lemon Wyatt & Tweed, 2002; Zweig, 2003). The foster care system began in the 1900’s in response to the growing population of neglected and abused children, homelessness, low adoption rates, delinquency and inadequate support services. In 1980, Congress passed the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act in response to unmet needs and problems in foster care and to promote permanency through adoption. This federal intervention mandated individual states to set up their own child welfare legislations. As such, in 1982, California passed SB 14, the Public System of Statewide Child Welfare Services to establish in every county a welfare department specializing in emergency response, family maintenance, family reunification and permanent placement (Youth Transition Action Teams Initiative, 2006). In the last 28 years, California has passed 60 legislative

2 bills addressing such issues as adoption, health care, emancipation, education, training, service programs, housing, reunification, parental rights and transitional support. Government agencies (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), 2005; California Education Code, 1996; National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2005) and foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Casey Family Programs, 2003, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c; Freundlich & Barbell, 2001; Freundlich & Wright, 2003; Pecora, Williams, Kessler, Downs, O’Brien, Hiripi, et al., 2003) have used data to guide them in developing new ways to provide intervention and prevention services to abused and neglected children and their families. As the number of youth entering the foster care system continues to rise, so do programs from various state and private agencies. The number of youths in foster care has grown in significant numbers since the establishment of the foster care system in the early 1900’s. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Family, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau (DHHS) reported that 378,466 children were in foster care at the start of the year. By the end of the year there were 405,743 children remaining in care (Voluntary Cooperative Information System (VCIS), 1998). By 2005, 800,000 children were in foster care and by the end of the reporting period in September 2005, 513,000 remained in care (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS, 2006). The DHHS in 2006, reported that children of color represented 64% of all the children in the foster care system and of that, 35% were Black (Casey Family Programs, 2006). Wolanin (2005) estimated the average high school completion rate among foster youths is 50% compared to a 70%

3 completion rate for all youths. There is far too few foster youth that complete high school and even less enter postsecondary education. Of the 300,000 foster youth between the ages 18 and 25, only 30,000 enter postsecondary education, with a high concentration at the trade school and a community college level (Wolanin, 2005). The rate of youth entering foster care, reunifying with family, completing high school and attending college demands greater government attention. Unfortunately, federal regulations and cuts in funding make it difficult for the states to provide adequate foster care and prevention services for child welfare (Christian, 2006). On February 1, 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget reconciliation bill that cut $40 billion from federal spending for programs targeting abused and neglected children and their families. This bill cut $600 million from the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance that impacts support for youth in kinship care. In addition, there were substantial cuts to child support, Medicaid, student loans, childcare and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Child Welfare League of America, 2006). Deficiencies in the Literature Despite an increased interest in foster care, there is little research on the topic, especially from the perspectives of foster youths. Of the literature that is available, a notable amount comes from reports and statistical data from public and private agencies, such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System and National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. Few studies focus on the life experiences of youth in foster care and their resilience, or the extent to which they access higher education and their ability to rise

4 above life’s challenges (Davis, 2006; Hines, Merdinger & Wyatt, 2005; Merdinger, Hines, Lemon & Wyatt 2002; Wolanin, 2005). Instead, most of the available literature concentrates on the deficiencies and risks of being a foster youth before emancipation. Very little is found on foster youths’ achievements and ability to rise above their abusive pasts and the challenges of being in the foster care system (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), 2005; Bent-Goodly & Chipungu, 2004; California Education Code, 1996; Casey Family Programs, 2003, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c; Freundlich & Barbell, 2001; Freundlich & Wright, 2003; National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2005; Pecora, Williams, Kessler, Downs, O’Brien, Hiripi, et al., 2003; Westat, 2001; Wolanin, 2005). Importance of the Study Foster youth are an invisible population, silenced by those that abuse and/or neglect them and by those that are trying to help them (Hochman, Hochman & Miller, 2004). A study commissioned by the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care contends that policy makers and service providers do not listen enough to the views of the youth, parents and foster parents (Hochman, Hochman & Miller, 2004). This study attempts to contribute to the limited knowledge on foster youth by giving voice to eight former foster youths who currently attend a four-year state university in Southern California. My goal is to use their experience to inform practitioners and policy makers about the foster youth experiences and to encourage more former foster youths to speak out. These stories are important for they will bring about a better understanding of the complexities that surround the foster youth experience and inform policy.

5 To provide effectively the needed services and support for foster youth, practitioners and policy makers must have a full understanding of whom they serve (Pecora, Whittaker, Maluccio & Barth, 2000). While quantitative data is respected for its scientific methods and ability to capture large samples, its force-choice questions limit its ability to draw-out the unique experiences of participants. The qualitative method used in this study captures rich data numbers are unable to provide. According to Hones (1998), narratives such as life stories frequently bring the voices of those who have been silenced, including children, to the attention of policymakers. While qualitative research may raise questions of generalizability, in depth analysis of a small sample size can be just as powerful. Descriptive narrative data can shed light to the unique human experience and capture voices and perspectives quantitative data is not able to do (Patton, 2002). Purpose My interest in learning more about the foster youth community stems from my interactions and work with former foster youths at California State University-A (CSU- A). The world of foster care opened up to me when I hired Susan six years ago. Susan walked into my office and applied for a student assistant position as a freshman. She was intelligent, strong, creative and determined. Who would have ever guessed that she was a former foster youth? For four years, I had the privilege to experience with her the challenges and successes she faced in college and how being a former foster youth shaped her life experiences. The relationship I had with Susan transformed me as a person and as a student affairs practitioner. She brought me into her world, allowing me to learn about her life experiences as a former foster youth.

6 Susan’s stories challenged my assumptions and perceptions about foster youth and the foster care system. My relationship with Susan and other former foster youth lead me to question the reasons so few enter college and even fewer graduate. Many people just like me do not have a great deal of knowledge about this invisible population. As such, I feel I have the responsibility to raise awareness among other practitioners who may be inclined to take action once they become aware of the issues of foster care and foster youths. I am committed to this study because I want to make a difference and give voice to youth that have been victims of abuse and neglect. Therefore, the purpose of this phenomenological study is to understand the lived experience of eight former foster youth attending CSU-A. My aim is to go beyond the incidents, what was true or not true, what happened or did not happen and the facts and figures. In phenomenology, what happened is not for the researcher to question, but rather it is for the person to relate the story (van Manen, 1990). Although a related incident may have occurred differently than it is relayed, I as the researcher would not point out the discrepancy because it is the storyteller’s lived experience. I want to understand the essence of their lived experiences as former foster youth, particularly those relating to pre-foster care, their placement(s) in foster care, education, and their decision to attend college. Phenomenology Phenomenology is a philosophy, methodology and a method to study a phenomena or the study of human meaning. Phenomenology is a system used to explore and describe the meaning of a unique lived experience. It is the study of people, not individuals or subjects (van Manen, 1990).

7 The methodology of phenomenology is such that it posits an approach toward research that aims at being presuppositionless; in other words, this is a methodology that tries to ward off any tendency toward constructing a predetermined set of fixed procedures, techniques and concepts that would rule- govern the research project (van Manen, 1990, p. 29).

Phenomenology is the study of one unique personal experience, one that cannot be duplicated or generalized to develop a blanketing theory or solution (Gadamer, 1994; van Manen, 1990). What is liberating about phenomenology is the ability to appreciate the person and not having to make the experience fit into a predetermined category. Phenomenological research does not offer the creation of theory, but it does create insight to bring us closer to the living world (van Manen, 1990). It is also not based on mere conjecture or inferences; instead, research takes its point of departure from the person’s lived experience. The lived experiences gathered through phenomenological research can make a difference on the personal and societal level (Gadamer, 1994). Another person’s lived experience can help us put ourselves in his or her world. In this case, what it is like to be a former foster youth. Solving problems is not the goal of phenomenological research, but rather understanding the lived experience is what guides phenomenology. Facts, incidents, information about where, when and how particular incidents occurred are not important when compared to the CSU-A program for former foster youth (RS) student’s conscious reflection of his/her lived experience. Reflection on the lived experience is retrospective, based on a recollection of the past. As van Manen (1990) articulates, “A person cannot reflect on lived experience while living through the experience” (p.10).

8 Definition of Terms For the purpose of the study, the following terms are defined: • Foster youth. From the point of birth to the age of eighteen, the state can take a child away from his or her parents because of abuse and neglect. The state uses the term foster youth to designate a child the court has placed into the custody of child protective services. • Emancipated foster youth. The state releases legal guardianship once a foster youth reaches 18 and sometimes up to the age of 21. This stage in a foster youth’s life is called “aging-out” or “emancipation,” where they are left to their own resources for survival. There are services that are available to help emancipating youth transition into adulthood. These services vary from state to state. • Kinship care. Youth taken from their immediate family are placed into kinship care over foster care if there is a relative (i.e. grandparents, aunts or uncles) willing to serve as the youth’s legal guardian. Kin-GAP is a kinship guardianship assistant program in California created to provide payment and Medi-Cal coverage for the child under care (California Department of Social Services, 2000). • Child & Youth. The term child refers to a person that is between the ages of 0 to 14. The term youth refers to a person that is between ages of 15 to 24. This study will use these two terms interchangeably to identify a person between the ages of 0-18.

9 • Lived experience. Phenomenology is the study of the lived human experience, the past. The term “lived experience” is used to emphasize the past because phenomenology is not the study of the present and nor is it predictive of the future (van Manen, 1990). • Bracketing. Phenomenological studies use bracketing to suspend one’s beliefs that include theories, personal experiences and expectation of what is reality or someone else’s reality to understand fully the meaning of an experience and new meanings. In other words, bracketing is being aware of one’s bias and setting aside preconceived notions to “experience the experience” in more than just a superficial way (van Manen, 1990). • Essence. The study of essence is to look at the inner true being and nature of something. It is, the “whatness of things, as opposed to their thatness” (van Manen, 1990, p. 177). The essence describes the meaning relations we have with the world. • Co-researcher. The term co-researcher and RS students will be used interchangeably to refer to the research participants. • RS program. This term represents the program designated for former foster youth at California State University-A (CSU-A). Preview This study is structured to give the reader a glimpse into the world of foster care through the lens and voices of eight former foster youths attending a four-year university. Chapter Two begins with a brief history and progression of the foster care system and current trends with a focus on educational attainment and outcomes. In

10

Chapters Three and Four, I will provide a background on phenomenology, the methodology and methods guiding the study. In hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry, writing is as important as the research activity and reflection itself (van Manen, 1990). Hence, the last two chapters, Five and Six, are critical because they will immerse the reader into the lived experience of eight former foster youths. Chapter Five illustrates the lived experiences of eight former foster youth through themes and storytelling. My aim in this chapter is to transform the lived experiences of eight former foster youth into a “textual expression of its essence – in such a way that the effect of the text is at once a reflexive re-living and reflective appropriation of something meaningful…” (van Manen, 1990, p. 36). After presenting each of their stories individually in Chapter Five, I will in Chapter Six pull the stories together to create a collective experience through themes that will speak to being a former foster youth. Chapter Seven provides my reflections on the process and findings from the research with implications for research, policy and practice. Lastly, I will conclude with an epilogue where I will share my personal experience in doing this study.

11 Chapter Two An Overview of the Child Welfare System Child Welfare System The child welfare system was created to protect and ensure the safety, permanence and wellbeing of children. The complex system of courts, along with private and public (federal, state and county) welfare agencies (i.e., mental and physical health, education, substance abuse and domestic violence) respond and provide support and interventions to families when it is evident that the children’s safety and wellbeing are in jeopardy (McCarthy, Marshall, Collins, Arganza, Deserly & Milon, 2003; Reed & Karpilow, 2002). Though not every child in the system ends up in foster care, seven out of every ten children in California’s child welfare system are in foster care (Reed & Karpilow, 2002). While policy and services vary by state and county, there are a set of federal policies all states and counties must abide by to receive federal funding. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is the principal federal agency that regulates state funding and services. Under DHHS are the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). ACF is responsible for allocating funds to support state programs such as foster care, adoption, childcare, abuse prevention and finding permanent placements for children displaced from their homes. CMS is responsible for the medical care of foster youth. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), under the Child Welfare Services (CWS), is the primary institution responsible for the state’s child welfare program. CDSS is responsible for (a) allocating federal and other sources of funding to state and county programs, (b) overseeing developing and implementing programs for at-

12 risk children and their families, (c) licenses foster care providers and conducts research, (d) supports counties with adoption services, and (f) evaluates programs and services (Reed & Karpilow, 2002). CDSS monitors and supports programs and services of 58 counties who are directly responsible for developing and implementing programs that address the needs of abused and neglected children (Reed & Karpilow, 2002). Counties are state and federally mandated to address four service areas: 1. Emergency Response: The county is responsible for taking reports (usually through an Emergency Response 24-hour Hotline) of child abuse and/or neglect and determines if there is a need for an investigation or an immediate response. Depending on the evidence from the investigation, the county can close a case or assign a social worker to determine the placement of the child. 2. Family Maintenance: The goal of the child welfare system is to keep the family together. The social worker has the ability to provide in-home services to families in crisis, where the child is not in imminent danger. A service plan and timeline are created to address the changes that need to be made. The family has a deadline, usually about six months to achieve the objectives on their service plan. The family may petition for extra time if it will help to complete the desired objectives. If the family is unable to meet the objectives and is unable to care for the child, the county may either continue the services or petition the court to place the child into foster care. 3. Family Reunification: When a child is removed from the home, the child welfare agency creates a reunification plan to outline the necessary steps parents must take

13 for their child to return home. Families have between 12 to 18 months to work on their plan before the agency sets into motion a more permanent plan for the child. 4. Permanent Placement: A permanent placement plan is created in case the reunification plan is not achieved. Reunification is the primary objective. If that is not achieved then the county looks for the next best solution to finding the child a permanent home. Adoption would be the first alternative. The second would be legal guardianship. If neither is possible then the child welfare agency considers other alternatives such as foster care, kinship care, group homes and community treatment facilities. (Reed & Karpilow, 2002) Going Through the Child Welfare System The CWS is a complex system (see Figure 1) designed to protect the child from abuse and neglect. Once a call is made to the Child Abuse Hotline, a social worker screens the call to determine whether there is evidence of abuse and/or neglect (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2008). If there is evidence of abuse and/or neglect, and such that the child’s safety is determined to at risk, a case will be opened and a report will be sent to an emergency response social worker for further investigation. The case will close if the investigator does not find evidence of abuse or neglect. If there is evidence of abuse or neglect, the social worker evaluates the level of risk and will determine whether to offer supportive services at home, remove the child from the home or allow the child to stay with the family with a family maintenance plan (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2008). The case will close if the family is successful in completing the family maintenance plan.

14 However, if the identified risk takes the child out of the home or if the family fails to comply with the family maintenance plan, a petition is filed with the juvenile dependency court to begin a series of hearings. These hearings will determine the fit of the parents and their ability to keep the child at home. The court will place the child in out-of-home care (foster, group, kinship) if the court finds the parent(s) are a risk to the child. While the goal is family reunification, the court will order CWS to find a permanent placement (adoption or guardianship) outside the home for the child (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2008; McCarthy et al, 2003; Reed & Karpilow, 2002). Juvenile Dependency Court Embedded in the CWS is the juvenile dependency court. The court process is a series of hearings that begins once a child is removed from the custody of the parent(s). While the child is waiting for the court’s decision, the child is temporarily placed into “out-of-home” care to keep the child safe. It is then the court’s responsibility to determine the risk and the necessary actions to keep the child safe. Depending on the court’s ruling, the child may be returned to the parents. CWS has in place a complex system to ensure the safely and permanency of a child (see Figure 1). The level of abuse and/or neglect a child has experienced will determine whether the child will get to stay with the parent(s) or become a dependant of the court and be placed into foster care or kinship care (Reed & Karpilow, 2002). If the court allows the child to return or remain at home, the parent(s) may still be required to attend hearings until all of the service plans have been fulfilled to the court’s satisfaction. At any time, the child may be taken away if the court does not see improvement or change. If the child becomes a dependent of the court and is placed into out-of-home care, the child will remain in the juvenile court

15 Figure 1 – Going Through the Child Welfare System

________________________________________________________________________ From “Understanding the Child Welfare System in California: A Primer for Service Providers and Policymakers,” by D.F. Reed & K.A. Karpilow, November 2002, p. 8. Copyright 2002 by the Public Health Institute, California Center for Research on Women and Families. Adopted with permission of the author. Report Called into Hotline -

Full document contains 258 pages
Abstract: This qualitative study examined the lived experience of eight individuals attending a four-year college who were all part of a campus support program for former foster youth. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand and explore the lived experiences of these unique college students that have gone through the foster care system. This study gives voice to a community of students that not only survived various forms of abuse and/or neglect during their childhood, they negate the nation's trend of low high school graduation rates and low college attendance rates among former foster youth. These students are success stories. The phenomenon of being a foster youth is told through the students' narratives. The narratives convey stories about their experiences in foster care system, their journey as foster youths and how they came about being one of the few that made it into college. Twelve themes summarizing their collective experience emerged from the student narratives: Feeling Alone, Wanting to Be Normal, Growing Up Fast, Powerless, Missing Links, Social Worker(s), That One Person, Summer Bridge, RS Program, Turning 21, Not Wanting to be Like Parent(s) and Giving Back.