College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Women's & Gender Studies


aging out of care, child welfare, independence, race, racism


Problem. Youth who age out of care experience poor outcomes, including high rates of mental health conditions, housing instability and homelessness, unemployment and poverty, and justice involvement. At particular risk are youth who exit semi-institutional care settings, including transitional living programs (TLPs) that support youth with achieving “independence” by the time they emancipate. This project explores: (1) how the child welfare TLPs instill independence in youth aging out of care and (2) the intersection of race and racism in the independence construction process that occurs during the transition out of care. Methods. This project used a qualitative case study approach. A nationally recognized community mental health provider in Illinois served as the study site. The program provided housing, psychiatric and transitional supports to youth diagnosed with mental health conditions who had histories of complex trauma and institutionalization. Data collected and thematically analyzed included: (1) child welfare system contract with the program and program’s manual; (2) interviews with ten youth during their transition out of care; (3) memos reflecting my own experiences and observations in the field. Results. First, the child welfare system and TLP valued independence as the goal of emancipation and definition of success for this vulnerable population. Second, a deep tension emerged in transition out of care as young people adopted the rhetoric of independence while also simultaneously pursuing benefits based on their disability status. Third, lack of acknowledgement of race, racism, and institutional hardship and oppression that impacts these vulnerable youth Discussion. This project contributes to understanding “why” focusing on interdependence matters for preparing youth for aging out of care, especially from semi-institutional settings.