They stand out, even when they don't stand out: a qualitative exploration of educators' perceptions of foster youth




Flannigan, Alaina Elizabeth

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Youth in the child welfare system may have academic needs that go unmet as a result of the perceptions that educators hold of this population. This study explores teachers’ ideas about foster youth, both as a population in general and the specific foster youth with whom they have interacted. Fifteen current and former teachers at the middle and high school levels were interviewed in a semi-structured format, and data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Results suggest low general and often negative knowledge of the child welfare system and foster youth who may be present in their schools as well as expectations of poor emotional and academic performance. Foster youth were equated, perhaps erroneously, to economically disadvantaged students as a whole. Foster youth held a stigmatized identity as irreparably damaged. Such negative perceptions were combatted with more accurate depictions of each individual student when educators took time to connect with students on a personal level. Based on these results, a school environment that includes well trained staff and informed peers who are able to provide safe spaces for foster youth to discuss their situations for better emotional processing and more open, less marginalized treatment of foster youth status may help foster youth better cope with the turmoil in their lives. Results also inform suggestions for a program to improve teacher competency around foster youth.


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