Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow

Committee Member

Wendy Burke

Committee Member

Lynn Nybell

Committee Member

Sylvia Jones


Each year, growing numbers of black foster youth, ages 18 and older, are emancipated from the child welfare system. Prior to termination, they are provided with a montage of independent living services aimed at teaching self-sufficiency skills. Nevertheless, many of these youth find themselves alone without the necessary aptitude, resources, and support needed to assume the intimidating responsibilities of adulthood. Although the literature regarding emancipated youth and their outcomes is extensive, there has been minimal research conducted on the unique experiences of Black youth as well as the factors that contribute to their success or failure in their transition to independence. Further, the information regarding their outcomes has been garnered from foster parents, case managers, attorneys, and family members, while failing to incorporate the voices of the youth who are best able to articulate the obstacles they encounter. This qualitative study examines the lives and experiences of eight black former foster youth. Audiotaped semi-structured interviews were conducted for the study. Data analysis took place throughout the data collection process. Their distinctive experiences, from their early childhood experiences that lead to placement in foster care, as well as their emancipation from care and subsequent road to independence are chronicled through their voices. Findings uncovered four themes: 1) child maltreatment, 2) unresolved trauma, 3) need for a sense of belonging, and 4) lack of preparation for adulthood. These themes represent the stumbling blocks of the participants’ past that continue to influence their life paths. This study enhances our understanding of the experiences of black aged out foster youth and the many challenges they face on their road to adulthood. Their individual stories raise poignant questions about the impact and efficacy of the foster care system on the lives of our most vulnerable youth.

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