Young adults’ understandings of their transition out of the child welfare system
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This dissertation examines care leavers’ first-hand experiences of negative outcomes through a theoretical lens. Regardless of multiple, intersecting identities and structural changes, youth in the Ontario child welfare system must navigate the same transition from the system to the larger community. This major life event and process involves a drastic change from full dependency on the child welfare system, which is a restricted context to full responsibility on care leavers with limited guidance to navigate a fluid context. There is increasing awareness that during this compressed process, care leavers experience numerous risks of negative outcomes. As a result, the Ontario government allocates funding for the child welfare system to promote a collective vision of support for youth and young adults to flourish. Nevertheless, there is limited evidence that care leavers benefit from investments. Drawing on one-on-one in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 21 young adults ages 19 – 27, this research found that care leavers were inadequately prepared for transition out of care, and after transitioning, they encountered poor outcomes in the following areas: education, employment, housing, mental health, criminal justice system, and social support networks. Thus, Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory and Ulrich Beck’s individualization theory are used to construct a social justice lens (i.e., intersectional individualization) with the aim to enhance understandings of reasons why youth and young adults transitioning out of the child welfare system experience risk of poor outcomes. Utilizing this intersectional individualization lens, this study argues that while care leavers tried to reflexively navigate their transition, diverse, multiple, overlapping identities and structural changes heightened their vulnerability, marginalization, and risk of negative outcomes. Moreover, this study contributes a nuanced understanding that can inspire systems of power to take a social justice approach, which can mitigate the impact of transition out of the child welfare system. This dissertation concludes with implications for future research, theorizing, policy, and practice within this specific field.