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Within the Shadows: The Qualitative Experiences of Undocumented Youth


Los Angeles County is home to the country’s largest child welfare system and the state of California’s largest undocumented population. While a considerable amount of research exists for each population, very little is known about how these two populations intersect. This study seeks to explore the qualitative experiences of undocumented foster youth, with the aim of understanding what types of institutional barriers exist and how they affect academic, physical and mental health, and placement outcomes for these youth. Using Critical Race Theory and Legal Violence frameworks, the study utilizes two methods of inquiry: semi-structured interviews with various key stakeholders representing the fields of social welfare, law, and community advocacy; and a testimonio with a former foster youth who was undocumented during her time in care. After a collaborative analysis with the former foster youth, results indicate that there are numerous structural barriers for undocumented foster youth, including issues with policy, mental health and medication, lack of support, racism and prejudice, barriers to reunification, and alienation and exclusion due to having undocumented status. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

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