Exploring the Complexity of Hair and Identity Among African American Female Adolescents in Foster Care

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Children & Youth Services Review

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African American children are disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system. Many of these children linger in the system and experience disconnection from their biological families, communities, cultural beliefs, values and practices. Familial socialization and cultural exposure are essential to developing a positive ethnic identity and self-concept. For African American female adolescents, hair and hair care are critical areas for such socialization and support. This exploratory qualitative study examined the hair and hair care experiences and perceptions of African American female adolescents in foster care. The goal was to examine hair and hair's connection to, and influence on, sense of self and self-esteem for African American female adolescents in foster care.

Eleven African American female adolescents participated in individual interviews, and grounded theory was used to analyze the data. Four major themes emerged: perceptions of hair and identity as an African American female; hair care experiences/support and perspectives; societal influences on self-awareness; and influence of the foster care system. Results from the study indicated African American female adolescents in foster care identify hair as important. Participants noted hair was connected to appearance and shaped who they are and how they viewed themselves as African American females. Participants addressed the complexity of hair and politics associated with hair. The findings further emphasized the role of racial socialization and the importance of a supportive hair care environment. Participants also discussed their awareness of societal influences on their perception of African American women. They offered recommendations for improving the hair care experiences of African American children in foster care, for supporting positive development of identity and self-esteem, and for implementing standards of practice that will ensure these youths' cultural needs are addressed in the child welfare system.



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