Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Sandra P. Thomas

Committee Members

Lora L. Beebe, Marian W. Roman, Mary F. Ziegler


Approximately 408,000 children were in foster care in the United States at the end of fiscal year 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). Some children return to their families of origin; however, some children remain in the foster care system until they reach age 18 or 21 and must leave, which is called “emancipation” or “aging out” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). Transitioning foster youth are at risk for many negative consequences including poverty and homelessness. These negative consequences are associated with significant health implications, such as mental health problems and risky sexual behaviors. The transitioning youth face an increased risk of these negative consequences and health implications as compared to their peers in the general population (Ahrens et al. 2010; Courtney et al., 2007, 2010, 2005; Pecora et al., 2005). The purpose of this study is to examine the lived experience of transitioning from the foster care system to adulthood. The study was guided by Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical stance and the research guidelines by Thomas and Pollio (2002). Participants were recruited from a transitional living program in a large, southern city by distributing flyer information and attending a peer-to-peer meeting. The sample included nine African American participants ranging from 18 to 23 years of age. An unstructured format was used asking participants to share their experience of transitioning from the foster care system to adulthood. Data analysis included an initial reading for meaning units, reading each interview for an overall sense of the experience, clustering meaning units into themes, and the development of a thematic structure. The thematic structure of the phenomenon of transitioning from the foster care system to adulthood included three themes: (a) I am nothing; (b) I am something; and (c) “make it back to shore.” Recommendations for the foster care system, nurses, and policy makers are included.

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