Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Carrie Doehring, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Katherine Turpin

Third Advisor

Michele Hanna


Foster care, Young adults, Aged out, Meaning making, Pargament, Psychology of religion, Qualitative analysis, Tattoos


Each year up to thirty thousand young adults age out of foster care in the United States. Historically research has focused on more tangible issues for this population (e.g., employment, education, etc.). Recent research addresses more intangible issues (e.g., quality of their relationships, resilience, etc.). This study reviews and then furthers such research by doing qualitative research to conduct nine loosely structured interviews with young adults who aged out of foster care to (1) discern if and how they made meaning of their experiences and (2) identify if there are spiritual themes within those narratives. This project used a qualitative research design with a phenomenological inquiry approach and a modified grounded theory for the data collection process and thematic analysis for the analytical procedure. Four super code categories of meanings about aging out emerged with both beneficial and detrimental outcomes: (1) the interviewees' foundational beliefs about self and coping, (2) their relationships (3) their worldviews about spiritual topics; and (4) tattoos: a physical manifestation demonstrating meanings made. These super codes were discussed using psychology of religion, especially definitions and theories from religious coping (Pargament), meaning making (Park and Folkman), and meaning centered approaches to resilience (Wong & Wong). There were five topics of significance: (1) interviewees did, indeed, make meaning of their foster care and aging out experiences; (2) spiritual themes are present in the interviewee narratives of how they made meaning out of foster care and aging out; (3) spiritual narratives are implicit versus explicit; (4) Pargament's (2007) attributes of the sacred can be used to identify implicitly sacred statements; (5) tattoos can demonstrate the ways interviewees symbolically represented spiritual themes to do with being in foster care and aging out.

The findings emphasize the need for expert knowledge and training to recognize how young adults make meaning out of the aging out process, and to identify the implicitly sacred aspects of those meanings.

Clinicians can engage and build upon this study by recognizing the implicit spiritual dimensions of the aging out process, and exploring with young adults the beneficial and detrimental aspects of these implicit spiritual meanings.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Kerri Jane Tokarski


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

221 p.


Religion, Psychology, Social Work