Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Leslie A. Baxter

Abstract

Children placed in foster care are the most at-risk youth group in the U.S., often experiencing negative events and outcomes before, during, and after foster care. Despite the availability of statistical data centered on (former) foster children, little is known about how these individuals make sense of their often negative and rupture-laden experiences. One way that individuals make sense of rupture in life is through narratives. Narratives are important to examine because they allow for better understanding of the experience(s) and what experiences mean to those who have lived through them. Specifically, narratives might also illuminate differences in (former) foster children's emergence from foster care as resilient, or with wellbeing intact. Thus, this study aimed to explore adult, former foster children's narrative sensemaking and whether types of stories told correlate with narrator participants' (self-reported) resilience scores. Using mixed methods, I employed narrative thematic analysis to qualitatively analyze narrative interviews, looking at how participants made sense of rupture experiences. Independent coders conducted a content analysis, coding each story as one of the four emergent types, to allow for quantitative comparisons. A Kruskal-Wallis test revealed that resilience scores differed significantly among story types. Follow-up tests determined that narrators of Thriving after Rupture, in which narrators achieved personally because of foster care-related experiences, and Transformation for Self and Others, in which narrators both achieved personally and assisted others because of past rupture experiences, displayed significantly higher resilience than did narrators of Ongoing Rupture, which framed narrators as stuck in rupture and sensemaking cycles. Narrators of Helping Others and Giving Back, who talked about assisting others in the foster care system because of their own experiences, also trended toward displaying greater resilience than Ongoing Rupture. These results indicate that framing might be as important to wellbeing as lived experiences. Thus, it is important to continue to explore narrative therapy as a means to bolster (former) foster children's resilience.

Public Abstract

More than 400,000 children live in foster care in the United States. Foster children are the most at-risk youth group in the U.S., often enduring negative experiences before, during, and after foster care. Despite statistical evidence of this negativity, little is known about how (former) foster children talk about and make sense of their experiences. One way to explore their perspectives is through interviews where they are asked to tell the tale of their experiences. Exploring these stories might also increase understanding of resilience, or how individuals leave foster care with positive psychological wellbeing. With this in mind, the goal of this study was to explore what types of foster-related stories adult, former foster children tell and whether stories related to psychological wellbeing. Using interviews and surveys, I first listened to participants’ stories and answers to follow-up questions. I then examined how participants made sense of their foster care-related experiences, focusing on the type of story that each participant told. Results suggest that certain types of stories are more or less likely to be linked with psychological wellbeing. Overall, those who talked about being able to personally thrive and/or help others, even after negative experiences, tend to display more positive psychological wellbeing. These results indicate that framing, or the way one tells one’s story, might be as important to wellbeing as actual experiences. Thus, those working with (former) foster children should consider helping these individuals with framing their experiences to improve their psychological outcomes.

Keywords

publicabstract, family communication, foster care, interpersonal communication, lifecourse rupture, narrative, resilience

Pages

x, 138 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 131-138).

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Lindsey Juhl Jean Thomas

Included in

Communication Commons

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