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Foster children -- United States -- Care, Social work with children, Foster children -- United States -- Services for -- Assessment


This study explores how foster care experiences can impact support network functionality as young people exit the foster care system. This can be conceptualized as a function of both network member capacity to provide adequate support to address young adult needs, and network stability, which reflects cohesion within and across relationships to facilitate consistent support over time. We conducted support network mapping and semi-structured interviews with youth in foster care aged 16–20 (N = 22) and used theoretical thematic analysis to explore support barriers and facilitators in relation to the organizing concepts of support capacity and network stability. Overall, support capacity was limited by interpersonal difficulties inhibiting the presence and supportiveness of some network members (including family members, informal peer and community-based connections, and caseworkers), whereas network stability facilitated multidimensional support through strong and interconnected relationships with caregivers and service providers. Emergent network patterns reflected distinct subgroups of more and less functional support networks, and strategies for network enhancement focus on promoting youth-directed services and support, developing youth skills and opportunities to invest in informal relationships, and using network assessment to identify unmet support needs. Findings advance a framework for understanding how foster care impacts support network characteristics, and inform ongoing efforts to address resulting limitations through services and programming.


© 2019. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Children and Youth Services Review. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Children and Youth Services Review, [VOL 96, pages 220-230, (2019)]. Article is available online at:



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