Exploring college student identity among young people with foster care histories and mental health challenges

Rebecca Miller, Portland State University
Jennifer Blakeslee, Portland State University
Chanel Ison, Portland State University

© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Young adults with foster care histories experience unique barriers to success in postsecondary academic settings, including higher rates of mental health challenges. This study reports the perspectives of college students with foster care histories and self-identified mental health concerns (N = 18) about how these factors relate to their post-secondary academic experiences. Study participants describe managing their mental health amid other academic and life stressors, share their perspectives on campus-based support and help-seeking experiences, and highlight the need for acknowledgement of their foster care identities in conjunction with their developing college student identities. Participants make a case for programming to help with managing challenges related to overwhelming emotions in response to compounding stressors, balancing self-reliance with help-seeking when needed, and developing interpersonal relationships that reduce feelings of otherness in the campus context. Recommendations for improving student experiences include mental health services provided by people familiar with the lived experience of foster care, access to foster student-specific programs providing social, emotional, and academic support, and campus-wide efforts improve the conditions for academic success in the face of difficult personal histories and elevated mental health challenges.