Transition to Adulthood for Young Adults with Disabilities that Experienced Foster Care
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The transition to adulthood can be especially challenging for youth that experience the foster care system. These challenges are magnified for youth that also experience disability, accounting for at least 40-47% of all children in foster care. Youth with and without disabilities that experience the foster care system encounter barriers during the transition to adulthood that often lead to poor outcomes; including high rates of mobility, mental health concerns, or a lack of a consistent positive relationship with an adult. A national study determined that 2.5 to 4 years after a youth has aged out of the child welfare system only 54% had graduated from high school and only 17% were economically self sufficient. In order to move from a deficit-based to a strength-based approach it is important to gain a greater understanding of what helped young adults with disabilities that experienced foster care overcome barriers to graduation and aided their transition to adulthood. The findings from this dissertation study suggest and confirm prior research that improved systems and interagency collaboration, more training for professionals and caregivers, and self-determination and self-advocacy training for youth are needed to improve post school outcomes for youth with disabilities who experience foster care. The services and supports that were perceived as the most helpful in overcoming barriers were (a) access to mental health and disability services, (b) stable and positive relationships, (c) systems that provide a "safety net" during transition, and (d) post secondary support programs for alumni of foster care. On an individual level, resilience, self-determination, and self-advocacy seemed to contribute to participants' successful transition to adulthood. This dissertation study also demonstrates the variability of the social and relational contexts for youth in foster care, therefore a personalized, youth centered approach to case management is required during their transition to adulthood.