FSU Faculty Member's Book Seeks to Support Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Photo of Lisa Schelbe

This year, Dr. Lisa Schelbe, an associate professor and associate director of Academic Affairs at the FSU College of Social Work, published her book Some Type of Way: Aging Out of Foster Care.

The book seeks to answer several questions to improve outcomes for youth aging out of foster care and the child welfare system, including:

  • What are the realities of the lives of youth aging out?
  • Why are they struggling?
  • What are agencies and service providers doing to help them?
  • What should be done to help these youth negotiate the transitions out of care and into adulthood?

"Broadly, the challenges that young people face aging out can be summarized as lacking support and resources. They were not prepared for life on their own as they were aging out," Dr. Schelbe explained. "To be clear, this is not a reflection of their individual failures. In the United States, most of us are not independent—we need other people—and this is especially true during the transition to adulthood."

Dr. Schelbe described being motivated to write this book to provide a holistic understanding of how young people negotiate the transitions out of foster care and into adulthood. 

"3D Cover of the Book Some Kind of Way: Aging Out of Foster Care"

This book is based on qualitative research consisting of over 90 interviews and almost 1,000 hours of observation of youth aging out and service providers in a county in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The book presents real stories, alongside relevant research and theories, to help understand how youth transition out of foster care and into adulthood. The stories of five youths—Plato, Solana, Titi, Matty, and Jaden—are featured prevalently in the book and include examples from many others.

"It explores the complex and complicated challenges youth face as well as their creative survival strategies and resilience," she described. 

In addition to describing the daily realities of their lives, Dr. Schelbe wants to ensure that the book sheds light on the obstacles and structural barriers that youth encounter and the services and service providers that work with them. The book includes descriptions of service providers' efforts to assist youth aging out and shares service providers' insights. 

"It highlights the limitations of the foster care system and the service delivery system for youth aging out and provides detail on the systematic barriers in society that create obstacles as youth leave care," Dr. Schelbe elaborated. 

Research with young people aging out of care consistently finds that there are challenges across multiple domains, including housing, employment, education, mental health, health, and early parenting. 

"My research echoes the previous research. What I explore is the complex reciprocal interactions across these and other domains. When a youth encounters a problem in one aspect of their life, it has a cascading effect on others. Losing a job can result in losing housing and then needing to couch surf. And under pressure from the family or friend where a youth is sleeping, a youth may sell drugs or do something illegal. They can get a criminal record, which then makes it more difficult to get a job. The stress of all of this can erode a youth's mental well-being and contribute to health problems. It's easy to see how the challenges reinforce one another."

These factors also occur in a larger societal context that is unfriendly for youth trying to navigate life independently without much guidance. Most youths aging out of foster care live in poverty, challenging every aspect of their lives and well-being. 

Dr. Schelbe sees this book as being for anyone wanting to understand the experiences of young people aging out of foster care, which begins at the age of 18 and is no longer eligible to receive services.

An example is Jaden's story, a 19-year-old high school graduate with a strong support system unlike most other people in her position. Although she lives in her apartment through an independent living program and is trying to reenroll in community college, she relies on public transportation involving long commutes to a physically demanding, low-paying job in housekeeping. "She is working ridiculously hard and has tremendous grit. Jaden's problems with money are substantial," expanded Dr. Schelbe. "The book is filled with stories of youth who must navigate obstacles that their peers with more resources and support may not." 

Dr. Schelbe hopes anyone who reads Some Type of Way empathizes with youth aging out and sees ways that society and individuals can assist them through one of the most significant transitions of their lives into adulthood. With this perspective, she is emphatic that everyone has something to offer these young people – whether it be acting as a foster parent or mentor, organizing an event or educating others about foster care or even advocating for legislation and policy to support the needs of those involved in the foster care system. 

"I hope that the readers see the resilience and creativity of the youth who, in some type of way are surviving and sometimes thriving," she stressed. Ultimately, I want the readers to understand that, as taxpayers, each of us has a connection to youth in foster care. They are our children. If the moral argument isn't compelling enough, the financial angle, the cost-benefit analysis consistently finds that investing in youth aging is a solid investment with significant, life-changing long-term benefits."

Most of all, Dr. Schelbe wants us to listen. "We need to hear what they need and want and then work to make sure we are supporting them as they transition out of care and into adulthood. And if someone doesn't know any young people aging out, the book gives an opportunity to get to know some youth, hear their stories, and learn from them."  

Tuesday, December 5, 2023 - 10:24 AM
Last updated: Fri, 06/14/2024 - 03:28 PM