Dissertation

The proud but few: what do successful foster youth do to complete their high school education?

This qualitative study utilizes Choice Theory as a lens to present the perceptions of youth who successfully completed high school while being placed in the foster care system. Foster youth and their experiences have been a topic researched extensively but mainly through quantitative studies that focus on the challenges the foster youth face and their struggles to obtain an education. The study identified, through the foster youth’s voice, the choices of behavior that effectively helped them meet their educational goals and other basic needs. The participants in the study were able to identify conscious choice of behavior that included reframing their thinking about themselves as foster youth and the way they perceived teachers and other professionals who provided collateral services for them. This change of thinking led them to make active choices that progressively led them to high school graduation. These choices varied from assuming a teaching role with other peers, to participation in sports, theater or other extra-curricular activities, to volunteering for local non-profits, to being intentional about their peer group, and avoiding illegal, aggressive, or dishonest behaviors. Through their narratives, the participants recognized services or support systems that were beneficial and assisted them in attaining their educational goals, but also confirmed the challenges commonly known and researched that foster youth often face. This study is significant to foster youth, foster youth advocates, foster parents, and other professionals who are formal or informal support systems for foster youth, as it may provide knowledge and understanding of the experience of foster youth in this study and their success stories. These experiences will provide insight to what these foster youth focused on, planned, and did in order to complete high school and may provide others with ideas and techniques that may assist in the success of other foster youth. Some of these ideas or techniques may turn into procedures or policies that may be implemented in a larger scale and that would affect and even greater number of foster youth.

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