Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Lanesskog, Deirdre


The following research study examines foster youth and higher education, specifically focusing on the roles social workers do or might play in helping foster youth pursue higher education. The literature suggests that child welfare agencies have implemented programs for foster youth to be able pursue a higher education and for social workers to assist with the process, to improve foster youths’ educational outcomes. However, there continues to be a gap between foster youths’ aspirations and achievements.

This study uses a qualitative design, using in-depth interviews with social workers in Southern California. A snowball sampling method was used to recruit participants, including using personal connections of the researchers to identify potential social worker participants and then asking each participant to nominate an additional social worker participant. This study interviewed 10 social workers who have previously worked or are working for the child welfare system. During the interviews the researchers were asked about their assistance in providing youth with information regarding college and university programs that support foster youth, as well as their knowledge of resources to give to the foster youth students. The researchers also asked about the preparation process social workers use with youth applying for admission, financial aid, grants, and scholarships.

Upon analyzing the data, three common themes emerged from the interviews of the participants. The three common themes included barriers that foster youth experience in their lives, such as emotional trauma that remains unresolved and finding stability in a placement home and in the relationships they form. The second theme found was the complexity of the child welfare social worker’s role. The final theme that emerged from the analysis of the data is that the focus is not on education for foster youth, this involved obstacles such as a lack of mentorship for the foster youth and a knowledge of resources that is limited in social workers.

This research study examines social workers’ perceptions of their roles in supporting foster youth pursue higher education. The major implications of this study are that there is not enough training to better prepare social workers to working with foster youth in helping them achieve a higher education. Another implication is that social workers defined their role in child welfare as being too impacted by the high number of cases that they carry, that they cannot take time to mentor foster youth the way they would like to. It is recommended that the state of California reanalyze their long term outcomes of foster youth if they were to have better mentoring from social workers. This could be made possible if, potentially, social workers were assigned a lower number of cases to take more time and produce a higher quality of work with each individual foster youth student. This study is significant because it may help identify improvements in social work training, education, programs, and policies in order to assist foster youth in achieving higher education.