Congratulations to STIR Lab student Denielle Abaquita on successfully defending his Honors Undergraduate Thesis! Denielle’s thesis, titled “Understanding the Challenges Child Welfare Workers Encounter Related to the Online Safety of Foster Youth”, delves into how foster care case managers work with the challenges of online safety related to adolescents in the foster care system in the United States. The thesis abstract is available below. We are very proud of Denielle for successfully complete his thesis and wish him best as he continues his undergraduate career!
Abstract: Foster care case managers are responsible for the wellbeing of foster youth in the foster care system. Teens (ages 13-17) in foster care are especially vulnerable and difficult to support in that they are the least likely to find permanent in-home placements and the most likely to encounter serious risks to their safety, such as sex trafficking. Further, such risks have been heightened by the advent of internet-based technologies that connect foster youth with unsafe others at unprecedented frequency and speed. This thesis examines how case managers tackle the challenge of online safety as it relates to adolescents in the foster care system in the United States. We conducted 32 semi-structured interviews with case managers who have worked with foster teens (ages 13-17) within the past 5 years. After each interview, we transcribed the recording and conducted qualitative data analysis to identify emerging themes. We found that foster teens face numerous online risks such as sexual-related risks (e.g. sex trafficking) and contact-related risks (e.g. unsolicited contact). However, case workers may not be prepared to address all of these challenges because of lack of online safety training and support from foster parents. Also, case workers are overburdened with many responsibilities that make online safety a secondary priority. This thesis identifies the gaps in the way case managers are trained and the support they receive to handle online safety challenges. This thesis also demonstrates the importance of online safety and recommends ways to implement the support needed for case managers to prioritize online safety.