Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Dustin D. Berna

Second Advisor

Neil Katz

Third Advisor

Judith McKay


aged-out foster youth, foster care system, foster youth alumni, structure violence, systems, trauma


In the U.S. there are approximately 25,000 youth that leave the Child Welfare System without a stable long-term housing arrangement and are left to age out of foster care and transition into adulthood (Dion, Dworsky, Kauff, & Kleinman, 2014, p. iii). These foster youth alumni (FYA) travel through various paths yet share many traumatic events that cause long-term effects that influence coping skills. This qualitative and phenomenological study aims to investigate the various traumas experienced, before and during foster care, and the coping skills that FYA have developed. A total of 16 FYA, from the Florida Child Welfare System, were enrolled in the study and completed a demographic survey and semi-structured interview to share their experiences entering and aging-out of the system. From these interviews, shared themes resonated through the collective group: Lack of Basic Skills, Coping Strategies, and System Barriers. In addition, several sub-themes were highlighted in the study that further illustrate their experiences. The study results display gaps in the system where this vulnerable population is often being re-traumatized. This inturn affects how FYA behave and the skills used to cope while succumbing them to a higher probability of confronting additional obstacles than those foster youth who are reunified, adopted, and/or placed in a stable home. The investigator intends for these results to help improve Child Welfare best practices and begin further discussion on needed actions to provide the appropriate support and programs to aid FYA to independence.