Solitary girls : longing among wards of the state
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I am researching the experience of foster care drift. This term refers to children who are considered homeless because it is not clear where they are going next. Research shows that the majority of children who have experienced foster care drift lead unstable lives after reaching the age of eighteen. They have high levels of poverty, homelessness, and incarceration, lack the most basic literacy and life skills, do not sustain employment, and lack health care and mental health care. The research is centered in a residential treatment center for girls. I conducted ethnographic research while working with about two dozen girls, aged seven to seventeen, on service-learning projects. The girls designed projects in which they developed a sense of helping someone else. Frequently these projects involved the making and exchange of material objects. Unfortunately, the institutional structure isn’t set up to provide such activities on a regular basis. My analysis focuses on how the girls use objects to gain social status and form bonds with others. I seek to understand the nature of their sense of ownership and belonging in a group, which differ markedly from those valued outside the system. The skills the girls are practicing in the residential treatment center will serve them well in total institutions such as prisons and mental hospitals, but they will have a hard time succeeding in a job or educational setting.