A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime
Relational Permanence Among Young Adults with Foster Care Backgrounds
This study uses interviews with 29 young adults who aged out of foster care to explore their existing support networks and how they learned to cope with people coming in and out of their lives.
The phenomenon called “aging out” includes approximately 20,000 young people who enter adulthood directly from foster care each year. Internationally, growing attention is afforded to this population as research continues to indicate a startling range of risks to their adulthood success. Few studies examine social support networks and relational well-being among this population. This interpretive study conducted in-depth interviews and created personal network maps with twenty-nine young adults participating in a program offering resources to help them make successful transitions to adulthood. The aim of this study was to explore their social support networks and examine how foster care might constrain or facilitate supportive relationships into adulthood. This study is informed by a conceptualization of foster care as embedded in “ambiguous loss.” The report’s key findings describe the members of their support networks and discuss unique aspects of these relationships including: (1) the distinctions participants make between the role of adult versus peer support, (2) the multiple roles and supports of inner-circle members, and (3) the participants’ understanding of what sustains or threatens the permanence of their most important relationships. This report introduces the concept of familial support, providing a sense of family connection, as an important support provided by some participants’ inner-circle network members. Ultimately, these findings indicate that experiencing and learning to cope with ambiguous loss shapes and informs how participants interpret their social worlds and affects their sense of some relationships as seasonal, and others as permanent or enduring across the life course. The report closes with implications for practice and policy.