Persistence, Motivation and Resilience: Older Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Many young adults involved with the child welfare system have a unique set of circumstances and needs. As they come of age, separated from their families of origin, additional services and supports are warranted to achieve their goals in life. This qualitative study explores the experiences of youth who have been impacted by the foster care system and are enrolled at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the Mid-Atlantic region. Using a phenomenological approach, participants were interviewed regarding their motivation to attend an HBCU. Journey to College and Current College Experiences were two major themes that emerged from the interviews, along with several sub themes. The need for additional research and implications for child welfare social work practice are discussed.

Key Take Away Points

The study provides an lens to understand:

  • Internal and external factors that impact older youth decision to attend college;
  • The experiences of youth aging out of foster care attending HBCUs
  • The challenges foster youth experiences face without support
  • The importance of forging partnerships between HBCUs and the child welfare system; to improve educational outcomes for African Americans aging out of foster care.

Author Biography

Belinda Davis Smith, Ph.D.,LCSW - Assistant Professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Smith teaches in the School of Social Work, Bachelor Social Work (BSW) Department. She has served as the BSW Director of the Title IV-E Training Program and taught Public Child Welfare in the Urban Environment. Previously she has Co-Chaired the Child and Families Committee and continue to serve on dissertation committees that focus on children, youth, and families. She was also the Principal Investigator on the Older Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Study Attending HBCUs. Dr. Smith has an extensive background in the field of child welfare as a researcher, educator, and practitioner. Dana Burwell Wilson, Ph.D., LCSW - is the Director of Student Affairs and Admissions in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. She previously was the Vice President of Membership at Child Welfare League of America. Also, she was the Co-Principal Investigator on the Older Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Attending HBCUs study. Tiffany Yvette Lane, Ph.D., MSW - Assistant Professor at West Chester University, Undergraduate Social Work Department in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She earned a MSW from Howard University and Ph.D. from Morgan State University. Her dissertation study examined African American Youth Who Age Out of the Foster Care System and their Enrollment and Progress at Postsecondary Institutions. Prior to earning her doctorate, Dr. Lane served as a Research Assistant to the Older Youth Aging Out of Foster Attending HBCUs study. She is an emerging scholar in child welfare. Sonja V. Harry, Ph.D., MSW - Assistant Professor at Winston Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Harry is currently the Acting Program Director in the BSW Department at WSSU. She has vast experience in teaching, research, and practice that focus on issues that impact children, youth, and families involved in the child welfare system. Isiah Marshall, Jr. Ph.D., MSW - Associate Professor and Chair of the MSW Department at Daeman College in Buffalo, New York. Dr. Marshall research interest have largely focused on underserved and vulnerable populations.


Dr. Belinda Davis Smith, LCSW would like to acknowledge appreciation for the research team and the co-authors contribution to this manuscript. Additionally, special thanks to Dr. Anna McPhatter, Dean of Morgan State University (MSU)School of Social Work; Professor Yvonne Greene, Chair of the BSW Department at MSU; and Dr. Sandra Stukes Chipungu, Chair of the Ph.D. Department at MSU for their continuous support.