Child and Youth Care Forum

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 229-244

First online:

Drift as Adaptation: Foster Care and Homeless Careers

  • Rose Marie PenzerroAffiliated withDepartment of Social Work, University of Texas–Pan American Email author 

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Tension between policies mandating permanency planning and those requiring treatment in the least restrictive setting leaves many children labeled seriously emotionally disturbed, drifting through placements. An ethnographic study of boys in a residential treatment center in Central Texas suggests that the overrepresentation of former out-of-home care youth among the long-term homeless population may be viewed as the continuation into adulthood of a pattern of drift that began earlier while in out-of-home care. A close-up view of 12 residents of a residential treatment center suggests that forces of drift are more powerful than caseworkers and youth. Implications for policy and practice aimed at breaking the pattern are discussed.

foster care residential treatment ethnography mental health adolescence