Youth transitioning out of the foster care system

Transitioning into adulthood can be a difficult time for any young person. For those who are also coming out of foster care, this move into independent living can be particularly tough. The expected challenges of securing housing, tackling personal finances, etc. may add to existing stresses, such as coping with mental health or addiction concerns, and an interrupted education.

Yet, rather than focusing on the barriers faced by these youth, taking a strengths-based approach can help counsellors support these youth in transitioning successfully from foster care. By building on positive characteristics, counsellors can guide youth to use their strengths to overcome barriers and problems during this risk period.

To better understand the perspective of those who had experienced this transition, Danae Laut, a Werklund MSc graduate, interviewed 6 adults who identified as having successfully transitioned out of foster care. Despite having diverse backgrounds and experiences in foster care, several commonalities emerged from their interviews.

Into the adult world

Overall, the participants stated that they had a positive experience during their entry into independent, adult living. They noted that they were happier to be out of foster care. All 6 participants felt that they lacked a voice and agency while in institutional care, and felt that they now had more control over their lives.

Transitioning from foster care also helped to distance them from the stigma surrounding the foster system. The participants told stories of the assumptions others would make about foster children – such as being ‘damaged’ or problematic, or about the families they came from – which they no longer had to deal with as often.

Several participants noted initial challenges related to the abrupt shift from care into the adult world. They felt they had not been adequately prepared by social services for being completely financially independent and the responsibilities they needed to manage. While some participants received instruction on the skills and knowledge they would need as adult, they felt it was not sufficient or tailored to more high-functioning youth. This left them to figure this out on their own after they had left.

Social supports played an important role in successfully transitioning into adulthood. All of the participants had at least one adult that they could reach out to when they needed emotional support, advice, or resources to assist them. They also spoke of their own grit and determination in pushing through stressful and challenging times. The participants spoke about focusing on the task at hand, and not dwelling on the past, to help them with coping.

Having a voice

Danae’s work with these young adults emphasizes that they are a resilient population, which must be capitalized on during counselling interventions. It also shows the diversity of foster youth experiences in classrooms, and each student will require different teaching and interventions based on their level of functioning. On a broader scale, further research may be needed into the importance of advocacy and agency during foster care, and helping these youth to have more voice during their care.