First Advisor

Ben Anderson-Nathe

Term of Graduation

Summer 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work




Foster children -- Psychology, Teenagers -- Social networks, Critical discourse analysis



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 174 pages)


There are nearly 422,000 youth in foster care in the United States with 20,000 aging out each year. Youth who age out of care demonstrate worse outcomes in all areas (education, employment, homelessness, justice system involvement, and social support) compared to the general population. These outcomes represent an ideological production, or a production of knowledge regarding the discursive youth in care. Thus, dominant discourses of youth are informed and constitutive of these problematic outcomes. Similarly, youthhood is dominantly defined by risk and informed by peer groups and social relationships. This study presents findings from interviews with 22 youth preparing to age out of foster care across the state of Oregon regarding individual relationships and social support networks. The analysis was informed by social constructionism, poststructuralism, Foucauldian concepts, and Gee's approach to critical discourse analysis. The study explores the discourses young people invoked when discussing social supports. Two prominent discourses emerged: the normal teen and the typical foster kid. The normal teen discourse was characterized by normative family structures, access to a variety of friendships, and normative transitions to adulthood. The typical foster kid discourse was characterized by constructions of youth through professional documentation, hyper-independence, professionalized relationships, dysfunctional family systems, unmet needs, and desires to participate in service planning. While participants invoked both discourses, they positioned themselves in contrast to either discourse, enacting resistance to these discursive constructions. This dissertation discusses the implication of these findings for child welfare research and practice.


© 2022 Jared Israel Best

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