Our Research

Changing the Narrative: Perceptions of Youth in Foster Care

A research project that surveys the public's perception of youth in foster care and adoptive care

Authors: Zaid Gayle, Dr. Leslie Ponciano, Dr. Erica L. Snow, Dr. Akin Abioye, Dr. Noah Nash

Origin Story 

The “Changing the Narrative” research initiative was sparked around a dinner table. Young leaders from vastly different walks through the foster care system unearthed an overlooked yet consequential idea: the people tasked with caring for us “think we are criminals.”

The revelation shared was unsettling, but collectively true. What does it mean to navigate an unfriendly world and a child welfare system within that inherently views youth as the problem? 

What does it mean to navigate an unfriendly world and a child welfare system within that inherently views youth as the problem

The curious and emboldened youth created and launched a survey to test their assumptions in 2018, publishing the results in 2019. Simultaneously, the team designed curriculum and implemented training for professionals to “develop awareness” and “positively influence” the environments and lives of youth in foster care.


These reports capture the emerging research into implicit biases surrounding foster care and the challenge to ultimately transform perceptions and outcomes for youth today, and tomorrow.

Overview: Part One

Download Research Report Part One

In "Changing the Narrative: Part One (2019)", the driving question is what factors impact people’s perceptions of youth in foster and their portrayal in the media?

This report sets the stage by defining “bias”, “foster care”, and exploring the public's associations with youth in foster care locally. Data were collected primarily through focus groups with key stakeholders, and survey garnered more than 2,000 respondents. 

Overview: Part Two

In "Changing the Narrative: Part Two (2021)" we build on our earlier findings with original research into the public's perceptions of youth in both foster and adoptive care.

Specifically, the study inquires into the following questions: 

  • Does the amount, type, and genre of media consumption influence the negative perceptions of youth in foster care?
  • Is there a difference in the perceptions of youth in foster care vs adoptive care?
  • Do these perceptions/biases influence expectations for the life outcomes of youth in foster care and adoptive care?

Download Research Report Part Two

Part two also utilized a survey that yielded approximately 2,500 responses nationally. Key findings point to direct correlation between media consumption and working mental models of expected life outcomes for youth in foster care.

The study also illuminated persistent differences between perceptions of youth with foster care experience when compared to adoptive care across media types.

Executive Summary Reports

Below are links to download "Changing the Narrative" parts one and two. We encourage you to read, digest, and share.

Download Reports