Teens in foster care are some of the most vulnerable youth to encounter serious offline risks, such as sex trafficking. Research shows that children who are vulnerable offline are more likely to be vulnerable online. Therefore, it is important to understand how the internet plays a role in how foster youth are exposed to these risks, so that we may develop effective interventions that empower foster youth against becoming victims of these online risks. A comprehensive review of the literature (Chapter 2) emphasized the unique sets of characteristics and challenges of foster youth that create substantial nuance and require a deeper understanding beyond that of the general population. As such, my dissertation takes on a social ecological approach to adolescent online safety for foster youth by including the following three studies: 1) an interview study with 32 caseworkers that investigates how case managers work with foster families to address concerns of online safety (Chapter 3), 2) an interview study with 29 foster parents that examines how they mediate foster teens' (ages 13-17) technology use at home and the types of risks the teens encounter online (Chapter 4), and 3) co-design sessions with 20 youth and semi-structured interviews with 13 parents to develop best practices for conducting research related to adolescent online risk behaviors, specifically those sexual in nature (Chapter 5). Our findings confirmed that online safety is a great challenge within foster families, particularly as it relates to sexual risks (e.g., unsafe sexual interactions with strangers). Further, case managers and foster parents do not receive the necessary training or guidance to handle situations related to online safety which prevents them from providing the appropriate resources to foster youth. Finally, our research highlighted the importance of focusing ethical practices beyond risk mitigation to protecting youth (e.g., providing help resources, like national crisis hotlines, during our studies could help teens navigate online risks independently).
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Modeling and Simulation
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Badillo-Urquiola, Karla, "A Social Ecological Approach Towards Empowering Foster Youth to be Safer Online" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 1459.