First Advisor

Laurie E. Powers

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

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


Social Work




Determination (Personality trait) in children, Foster children, Youth with social disabilities, Autonomy (Psychology)



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 116 p.) : ill.


Youth in foster care who experience disabilities face many challenges as they transition out of foster care and into adulthood. In order to assist these youth, it is crucial to understand factors that may impact their self-determination, which research links to positive transition outcomes for youth with disabilities (Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, & Martin, 2000). While much of the existing research on the correlates and outcomes of self-determination focuses on young people with disabilities overall, and little is known about whether factors such as abuse, family stressors and extended length of time in care, and frequent placement changes influence self-determination. Exploring predictors of self-determination in youth with disabilities in foster care can be beneficial to researchers and child welfare practitioners who seek to identify effective approaches for helping youth accomplish successful transitions into adulthood. This dissertation examined the extent to which physical and sexual abuse and family stressors, such as unemployment, domestic violence, and homelessness prior to entering care; as well as foster care placement instability and total length of time in care, impact a youth's self-determination. In addition, the influence of demographic features such as race and gender on these associations was examined. Increased understanding of factors that contribute to self-determination can facilitate targeted interventions and services that enhance the lives of youth as they exit out of the foster care system and into adulthood. Overall, the findings did not reveal significant associations between self-determination and physical and sexual abuse, family stressors, length of time in foster care or number of placement moves. Post hoc exploratory analysis, however, detected other significant relationships. For example, above and beyond the main effect association of length of time in care, youth who experienced physical abuse and stayed in care for long periods of time demonstrated higher levels of autonomy. Likewise, youth with a greater number of family stressors in their family of origin, and who experienced longer stays in foster care, also demonstrated significantly higher levels of autonomy above and beyond the main effects of family stressors. These relationships speak to the resiliency and the varying nature of self-determination.


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Portland State University. Social Work and Social Research Ph. D. Program

Persistent Identifier