Working to transform the child welfare system.


Community Based Participatory Research Study Engages Youth in Foster Care

Findings from a 2020 study show that formal service use is high among youth who are “transition age” in foster care; however, mistrust of the system, among other barriers, limits access. Using a community based participatory research (CBPR) approach, researchers in the San Francisco Bay area, alongside their youth consultants, created a survey that sought to offer insights into the barriers transition age youth in foster care face when trying to access services.

Former and Current Youth In Foster Care Engage In Recent Study

Researchers Saralyn Ruff and Kristi Harrison engaged current and former youth in foster care  to create the survey.  The “youth consultants” were able to name issues that many researchers miss due to a lack of lived experience. For example, youth consultants were able to note how certain demographic questions about sexual orientation and relationship status may be poorly received by youth in foster care, who often fear discrimination and the unwanted consequences of self-disclosure. 

Youth consultants directed the survey to be more focused on youth autonomy and resourcefulness, rather than focused on deficits and risk factors. 

Study Findings: 

Youth of color made up nearly 90% of this study’s sample


  • Youth of of color reported distrust of the system

  • Youth of color reported hesitancy discussing identity-related topics in therapy

Overall, researchers also found that for transition-aged youth in foster care: 

  • Nearly all reported accessing at least one formal support service

  • Interactions with multiple types of services was correlated with the number of placements youth had experienced, but not with overall time spent in the system

  • Most common barriers to accessing formal services included transportation, mistrust of the system, and insufficient social support 

  • Friends were the most commonly cited informal support system

Findings from this study highlight the importance of supporting youths’ relationships with peers and the potential barriers youth of color face when attempting to access formal support services. 

What is Community Based Participatory Research? 

CBPR is an orientation to research that includes members of a population of interest directly in the creation, direction, and implementation of research. 

CBPR focuses on: 

  • Meaningful partnerships between researchers and the communities affected by the issues they study.

  • Emphasizing sustainability, empowerment, and shared-decision making between researchers and community members.

  • Prioritizing social justice and social change by removing distance between researchers and communities. 


CBPR allows communities to control and frame the conversation about the issues they face, according to Shira Hassan, a harm reduction activist and organizer. With equity and social justice at the forefront of work in social welfare, investigators should consider the value of CBPR as an ethical and social justice-oriented approach to research.