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'Family Doesn't Have to be Mom and Dad': an Exploration of the Meaning of Family for Care-experienced Young People

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2023

In this study, researchers explore the meaning of family for care-experienced young people.


This article reports on the meaning of family for care-experienced young people. A survey was undertaken in the US with 215 young adults (aged 18–22) who experienced out-of-home care starting in pre-adolescence. The article examines responses to an open-ended interview question, ‘How do you define family?’ The analysis highlighted that few young people define family as confined to blood relations. More commonly, young people adopted more flexible definitions, prioritising the ‘doing’ and reflecting on their conceptions of family; attempting to ‘do family’ differently from what they had experienced was also evident. The findings encourage consideration of the utility of family as an important concept for child welfare practice, as positive and flexible understandings of family were imbued with a sense of agency, identity, belonging and overall wellbeing. Young people who experience out-of-home care have typically encountered difficult and/or disrupted family relationships. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: October 1, 2023