School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling (EdD)


Tracy N. Baker


youth, elopement, child protection services, foster care alumni, well-being




The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand how elopement behaviors impacted short- and long-term well-being and daily functioning of older youth participating in North Carolina’s Foster Care 18 to 21 Program and foster care alumni in North Carolina. The theories guiding this research study were Bowlby’s attachment theory, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Fragmented relationships with foster caregivers were intensified with frequent elopement behaviors and problematic interpersonal relationships continued to manifest after foster care exiting. Fostered youth, their caregivers, child welfare professionals, and the community-at-large were impacted by the youth’s decision to elope. The effects of the elopement behaviors were experienced physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially, and communally within the various ecological systems. Youth sought opportunities to reconnect with familiar people and settings to have their needs met. The decision to elope, to return to these enjoyable and familiar places, led to youth re-traumatization. With these theories in mind, the participants were asked to describe their foster care experiences, to identify the contributing factors influencing their decision to elope, along with what could have preserved the placement, and to explain in what ways did elopement behaviors and placement instability impact their well-being and daily functioning. Data collection involved facilitating one 14-question interview with each participant. Themes were extracted from the interviews and ethical considerations were regarded to protect the participants’ well-being. The results from the study addressed the gaps in literature: first-person accounts of elopement and its impact on well-being and daily functioning was sparse among older youth in foster care and foster care alumni.

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