Monique Mitchell

Enhancing the Lives of Youth in Foster Care

Director of Translational Research & Curriculum Development
The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children & Families
Portland, Oregon; United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:00-5:20PM

Transcending Adversity: The Lived Experience of Youth in Foster Care

How do youth transcend adversity while in foster care? Integrating Viktor Frankl’s comprehensive meaning-centered theory, this presentation will address how youth in foster care draw upon their intrinsic resources in the midst of loss, grief, and trauma. Reports from youth in foster care will reveal how they make meaning of their circumstances, engage in self-transcendence, and defy hopelessness and meaninglessness through tragic optimism. As one youth reports, “Everything I’ve been through, it’s made me stronger, it’s made me wiser.” Join this presentation where the voices of youth in foster care will speak to the transformational potential in us all..


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Discovering Strength In Vulnerability

The purpose of this Research Laboratory is to unfold a differentiated concept of vulnerability that takes seriously that vulnerability is, at the same time, both a resource and a risk. This conception challenges widespread beliefs that vulnerability is a condition that ought to be avoided by persons and communities. In order to clarify the importance of this nuanced concept of vulnerability, the laboratory seeks to demonstrate how individuals and communities can discover strength in vulnerability; address interdisciplinary approaches by bridging the sciences and humanities to explore and understand vulnerability in its diverse dimensions; and to highlight how vulnerable individuals and populations can counter hegemony and thereby envision a future of freedom and flourishing. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Monique B. Mitchell, PhD, CT is a Lecturer in the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. After serving as  the South Carolina Research Director for the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) federal data collection for six years, Dr. Mitchell is now translating her research into practice by focusing her efforts on teaching, consulting, and developing new curricula. Her specialties include the lived experience of children and youth in foster care; life transitions; ambiguity; grief and loss; social support; spirituality; youth empowerment; and meaning-making. Her specific expertise involves consulting with children, youth, and invested parties in the child welfare system to inform policy and practice and to develop resources and curricula that serve children and youth in foster care. 

Project Executive Summary

This study aims to respond to the Big Question: “What does it mean to enhance life, including spiritual life?” Separated from their parents and other loved ones, youth in foster care search for hope and meaning as they cope with loss, grief, and psychological trauma. Although empirical findings reveal how unattended grief can result in unhealthy outcomes (e.g. depression and anxiety), the provision of emotional support is the least attended support in the lives of youth in foster care. How then do youth make meaning of tragic life events, such as traumatic loss, and find purpose and hope in the midst of suffering?

 The majority of research on youth in foster care focuses on tangible and objective outcomes such as homelessness, educational attainment, and financial support. Although it is necessary to attend to the challenges faced by this marginalized population, it is also critical to examine how children’s intrinsic experiences and spiritual lives can contribute to successful outcomes. The proposed study utilizes a phenomenological research design that is informed by an advocacy, transformative worldview. Reports from semi-structured interviews will be analyzed to provide a preliminary descriptive examination of how spirituality enhances the lives of grieving youth in foster care and inspires their future. Ultimately, it is hoped that the findings from this study will be used to encourage youth in foster care to introspectively explore their spiritual lives and discover their internal resources, to consider and strive for their goals, and to be inspired by the potential to enhance life.