Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


This dissertation examines the experiences of foster youth as they prepare for life after emancipation from state custody. Every year in the U.S., around 25,000 youth in foster care reach the legal age of emancipation and subsequently leave state’s custody. Colloquially, this transition is known as “aging out”. Although the youth who “age out” are legally considered adults, few are ready to meet the challenges of adulthood independently. These youth are more likely than their same aged peers to end up incarcerated, face unemployment or underemployment, drop out before finishing high school, and experience substance abuse problems or a mental health disorder (Shirk & Stangler, 2005). This study adds to the growing body of knowledge about the experiences of teenaged youth “aging out” of foster care. Though empirical studies have documented challenges facing emancipated youth (Craven & Lee, 2006), very little work has examined the actual experiences of emancipation from the perspective of youth and their guardians. Using illustrative case methodology, this dissertation captures life story perspectives on the experiences of teenaged foster youth and their guardians as they prepare for life after emancipation. A qualitative approach was utilized to provide experiential data to inform the practice standards and program effectiveness associated with the services and supports these youth received while in custody of the State’s Department for Youth and Families. A project of the Vermont Research Partnership, the study was able to utilize logistical and ethical consultation from state agency leaders during the development of methodology. The findings describe and analyze the challenges and successes that youth in foster care encounter as they prepare for life after emancipation. Interview data with youth, guardians and service providers highlighted themes related to preparedness including the barriers to youth perceptions of adulthood, the ubiquity of trauma experiences, the cost of staff turnover, the importance of long term relationship, and the “pull” of the biological family. The results of the study reveal a complex intertwining of personal, familial and systemic issues that converge to hinder preparedness for independent living despite the determined efforts of foster parents, service providers, families and the youth themselves. The study suggests areas for future research as well as policy recommendations related to service provision for teenaged youth in custody as well as emancipated youth.