Date of Degree
William Cross, Jr.
This dissertation examines the critical perspectives of formerly institutionalized youth with psychiatric disabilities through the lens of psychological agency. Framed in sociohistorical perspective, a theoretical shift is suggested for understanding the development of youth with mental health placement histories. In contrast to clinical approaches, which focus on psychopathology of youth in placement, this study elucidates the agentic meaning making processes employed by youth as they negotiate various treatment contexts and engage in activism. Participants in the study are 12 youth between the ages of 16-23, who are involved in peer-run groups for young people with out-of-home treatment experience, and 4 young adults who initiated the New York State Youth Movement in mental health (n=16). Through several in-depth interviews, I elicited narratives from the youth participants to determine the manner in which out-of-home placement impacts youth development, specifically analyzing discourse on conflict and agency. Additionally, I interviewed four leaders of the Youth Movement to develop a history and timeline. Results of this study indicate that youth identify placement in outof- home care and involvement in the Youth Movement as significant turning points in their lives. The findings further indicated that there are psychosocial benefits to Youth Movement involvement. The participants described problematic practices that occur in the context of out-of-home treatment settings, including over-medication, restraint, and seclusion practices, and negative psychosocial ramifications of placement, such as losing contact with their families and communities, and stigma and alienation. The participants articulated the importance of ensuring that youth-in-care have rights and can fully participate in decisions about their treatment. The agency statements made by youth varied as a function of context. Youth engaged different types of agency in residential treatment than they did in community or home settings, indicating that enactments of agency emerge within specific socio-historical contexts. The conflicts youth described as being most salient to their experiences also varied as a function of the context. Notably, the participants described conflicts surrounding coercive and abusive practices in the context of out-of-home care settings. The findings of this study suggest that institutional practices that constrain youth agency ultimately disrupt recovery and development. Further, the findings of this study support the need for further research on critical youth perspectives and clinical practices that support, rather than hinder, youth agency.
Polvere, Lauren M., "Youth in Out-of-Home Care: The Question of Psychological Agency" (2009). CUNY Academic Works.