Ainsworth and Bowlby's Attachment Theory suggest that young children experience lasting effects of disconnection if separated from their primary caretaker. Foster children are legally removed from their primary caretakers, yet the effects of foster care on later social relationships of foster children is unknown. The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate the perceptions of adult foster children, ages 18 years and over, who were placed into foster care under 5 years of age. The major challenge was to obtain qualifying participants, first, because this is an invisible population in the American culture and, secondly, these individuals are hesitant to share their stories. The initial population included 5 persons from a local shelter and, using the snowball method, the researcher secured an additional 15 adult foster children that met the criteria. Applying the phenomenological approach, these long interviews included 6 questions that addressed the research question: What do adults who have been in foster care placements prior to age 5 and have experienced more than 5 years in foster care placements from age 0-18 perceive are the long-term effects of foster care on their adult social relationships? The interviews occurred throughout Southern California and were taped and lasted 40 minutes to 2 hours, often filled with tears and high emotion. The participants included 3 with prior jail time, 6 who were homeless, 14 who were employed, 10 with an addiction, and 2 who were married. All had obtained a high school degree. All shared repeated unsuccessful friendship or romantic relationships. The transcribed interviews were reviewed by 4 trained coders in a doctoral program and produced 8 themes, leading to the 8 conclusions. The primary conclusions are adult foster children express that abandonment is a deep core aspect of their psychological profile (95%); share the mental health issues of low self-esteem, lack of trust, and putting up walls in their social relationships (100%); act out their generational cycles of various addictive behavior relating to abandonment (100%); spirituality helped to stabilize more than half of these adult foster children through challenging times; and those without spiritual connections described the support of mentors in their lives.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Foster children -- Psychology; Interpersonal relations -- Psychological aspects

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hiatt-Michael, Diana B.;