Understanding emerging adulthood from the perspective of those transitioning from foster care and those experiencing homelessness : the role of policy in supporting competency during the transition to adulthood



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The unsatisfactory achievement of adult competency among emerging adults aging out of foster care is well documented. However few studies have examined how development within the child welfare system impacts the ability to achieve competence. In this study, homeless emerging adults who had not aged out of foster care were compared to peers who were homeless and aged out of foster care. The child welfare system is a unique environment with its own policies. In order to better understand the process of development within the child welfare system, the current study used life course developmental theory to understand how the child welfare system affects the development of children and their ability to achieve competencies. Specifically, the role of learned helplessness in influencing the developmental trajectory of children aging out of foster care was examined. The data were collected utilizing participatory action research methods and the use of this methodology among homeless emerging adults is explored.
The current study analyzes data collected by the Texas Network of Youth Services. The study examined issues surrounding the transition to adulthood among homeless emerging adults using a participatory action research methodology. The sample included emerging adults 18 to 25 years old who were homeless (n=134). A subset of the sample aged out of foster care. The results indicated that, 1) homeless emerging adults who have not aged out of foster care may be an appropriate comparison group for those who have aged out, 2) homeless emerging adults who aged out of foster care were more likely to have a perception of learned helplessness that may impede their ability to achieve adult competency when compared to those who did not age out of foster care, and 3) despite receiving services to prepare them for adulthood, homeless emerging adults who aged out of foster care had just as much difficulty achieving adult competency as their homeless peers who did not receive these services. Finally, results showed that the use of participatory action research among homeless emerging adults may be a promising approach for future research. Participants expressed feeling empowered and having perceptions that indicated self-efficacy. This indicated that this type of methodology may be promising in altering perceptions of learned helplessness.