Mary Banghart Therrien, PhD

2013
Exploring the transition to adulthood by youth who have aged out of foster care and identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender

Tens of thousands of youth age out of foster care in the United States each year and face the challenges of adulthood while also experiencing a transition in their social support system. Many of these young people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and can encounter additional barriers as a result of reactions to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Previous research has identified the acquisition of stable housing, steady employment, and continuing education as indicators of the successful transition from foster care to adulthood.

This qualitative study explores whether sexual orientation or gender identity affects a youth’s ability to acquire these signs of success once they exited foster care. Using in-depth semi-structured interviews and eco-maps, the experiences and perceptions of twelve LGBT young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have aged out of foster care within five years were examined. A modified grounded theory approach was utilized to analyze data and build a framework to understand the impact of sexual orientation and gender identity on the transition to adulthood. Implications for future research and the need for support and educational services for both LGBT youth and service providers within the foster care system are discussed.