Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Social Work

Committee Chair

Collins-Camargo, Crystal Elaine


Foster children--Attitudes; Foster home care


Foster care is a fundamental component of the child welfare system. Traditionally, foster care has been viewed as the primary mechanism for caring for children placed outside of their home, and is considered one of the central intervention strategies for child welfare practitioners. Foster care services are regularly recommended for children who are abused and neglected. In 2011, there were an estimated 401,000 youths in foster care and approximately 646,000 youth were served by the foster care system. Yet, despite the importance of foster care to child welfare, social work literature in general, and child welfare literature specifically, is devoid of a well-defined, conceptual framework for what success in foster care really means, from the perspective of those most impacted: foster youth. This study delineated a conceptual domain for successful foster care, from the perspective of teens in foster care, and explored differences in this conceptualization, based on maltreatment type. Method: This study utilized a sample of youth, currently in foster care in Kentucky and employed a mixed-method approach known as Concept Mapping (CM). CM combines multi-dimensional scaling with hierarchical cluster analyses to form factors relevant to an area of study. This method allowed for foster youth to actively be involved in the study, and is suited to delineate a conceptual framework for defining success in foster care. Results: Data were analyzed utilizing The Concept Systems™ proprietary software. Results indicate that teens in foster care conceptualize success based on four distinct clusters: Social Work, Foster Parent(s), Foster Agency, and Foster Youth. Further, based on rating analyses, participants in foster care for abuse (to include physical and sexual), did not conceptualize success differently when compared to youth in foster care for neglect. Conclusion: This study revealed that success is a complex, multi-faceted construct. Youth in this study conceptualized success based on a number of distinct deas. Stakeholders involved with foster care research, programming, and policy development must take into account this multi-dimensional conceptualization. Further, this study demonstrated that foster youth are able to take part in research studies, and should be involved in foster care research and programming endeavors.