As the adolescent development literature has recognized the importance of social supports in the transition to adulthood, child welfare research, policies, and programs have turned their attention to the relational needs of youth emancipating from the foster care system. This study builds on the extant literature on social support among transitioning foster care youth; it goes beyond the sole identification of relational networks, to explore how youth actually utilize their network members, and the overall quality of their support system. This study collects data from twenty qualitative interviews with foster youth, ages 18–21. We analyze the data using consensual qualitative research methods in order to develop core themes around shared youth experiences. We found that while foster youth did identify a wide network of both formal and informal supports during their transition to adulthood, there were “holes” in the form of support, especially appraisal and instrumental support, provided by informal network members. Additionally, an unrealistic perception of supportive and permanent relationships may be contributing to poor outcomes in emerging adulthood. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.
Children and Youth Services Review, 35(12): 2110-2117