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Foster care alumni’s perceptions of the path from foster care to stable and lasting adoption

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Approximately 51,000 children are adopted from the U.S. foster care every year. However, the majority of states continue to face serious challenges to achieve timely and stable adoptions. To explore the facilitators and barriers to successful adoption, CCF researchers recently published findings from a qualitative study conducted with foster care alumni.

This study was part of a demonstration project funded by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau and corresponded to the project’s Exploration Stage to define the target population and identify the service array needs. The larger study comprised three major data collection efforts: (a) online survey of multiple stakeholders (n = 325, including 9 youth); (b) 59 individual interviews, including adoptive parents and professionals across systems; and (c) two focus groups with youth who had experiences in foster care.

The present study used the youth subsample (n = 25) from the online survey (n = 9) and a purposive sample of 16 participants that was recruited and convened in two focus groups to explore their perspectives as consumers of the foster care system. Focus groups were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using theoretical thematic analysis. Emergent themes were organized within a theoretical framework consisting of child, family, and system-level facilitators and barriers to successful adoption.

At the child level, youth in foster care identified self-determination as a key factor that influences adoption outcomes. For participants, the trauma-related and behavioral health needs are prevalent among youth in foster care and youth’s trust issues are heightened by adoption disruption and dissolution. At the family level, youth reported the need for better adoptive parent training to understand and address their adopted children’s needs, including preparation on trauma, trust, attachment, loss, communication, realistic expectations, and relationship building. The most important barriers identified at the system level were worker turnover, fragmented systems, and discontinuity in subsidies. System-level facilitators included formal and informal supports which can make a difference for youth and adoptive families.

Findings from this study highlight these youth’s plea for foster care and adoption systems to make methodical efforts to better match children and families and to prioritize youth’s voices; to build a more youth-centered adoption process and child welfare system; and to improve the overall systems’ understanding and response to trauma. In this study, youth’s voices were loud and clear. To improve adoption outcomes, youth suggested: continuity in state-sponsored benefits (e.g., adoption subsidy, medical card); youth mentoring; more comprehensive preparation for parents and youth; more knowledge, skills, and effective treatments to respond to children’s trauma and behavioral health needs; and, effective cross-system collaboration.

For full text of the article see: Mariscal, E.S., Akin, B.A., Lieberman, A., Washington, D. (2015). Exploring the path from foster care to stable and lasting adoption: Perceptions of foster care alumni. Children and Youth Services Review, 55, p.111-120.

For additional information, email Becci Akin ( or Alice Lieberman (

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