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Title: Becoming Responsible Adults: Aging Out of Child Welfare in Kentucky
Authors: Saldana, Elizabeth
Advisors: DavisLederman, ElizabethRena A
Contributors: Anthropology Department
Keywords: aging out
Child welfare
Foster care
Transition-age youth
Young adults
Subjects: Cultural anthropology
Social work
Public policy
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is based on ethnographic, participant observation and virtual fieldwork conducted with four former foster youths who had experienced aging out of foster care or social services in Kentucky, beginning in 2019 and concluding in 2022. In addition to former foster youths, I also incorporate participant observation fieldwork with lobbyists, child welfare experts, and other local advocates and service providers, as well as analyses of archival sources, journalism, government reports, text messages, and art objects. The central question of the dissertation is: In the absence of normative familial pathways to adulthood, how do young people who age out of foster care in Kentucky learn and understand what it means to be a responsible adult? Using a framework of ethical subject formation, drawn from Foucault and Foucaultian scholars, the dissertation investigates former foster youth’s reflective practices and notions of freedom, in concert with the political, social, religious, racial, gender, and spatial structures that shape and inform the ways they come to understand their own responsibility and craft a good life for themselves. I argue that listening to former foster youths on their own terms reveals insights about both child welfare and family regulation, but also about an array of other aspects of adulthood that many social scientists might take for granted. The dissertation is organized into four Parts, each of which examines ethical and moral conundrums in different aspects of normative adult life in Kentucky. Part I examines the moral landscapes into which former foster youth age out, specifically the historical religious origins of Kentucky’s child welfare system and the narrative blind spots produced in the shifting of local and federal politics of child welfare reform. Part II tracks the mobilities of former foster youths, investigating the ways they move around the and engage with the bureaucratic and racial organization of the commonwealth. Part III examines their relationships with caring adult mentors, and considers the challenges and difficulties associated with youth mentoring. Part IV examines their artistic and creative practices as a commentary on work and notions of the good life. In treating former foster youth as ethical subjects, capable of reflection and critical thought, I show how they incorporate, refuse, or invent new ways of abiding by normative notions of adulthood imposed on or offered to them by a number of social and state actors.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Anthropology

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