Serious mental health diagnoses are prevalent among youth who “age out” of foster care by reaching the maximum age for child welfare service eligibility. Post-emancipation, little is known about how youth engage in community mental health services, or leverage informal social networks, to navigate independence. Twenty emancipating youth completed three interviews over 16 months. All emancipated into poverty; most lived alone and initially connected to adult community mental health teams. Four service use and informal support profiles emerged from analysis: (1) Navigators (n = 2) actively used mental health services and provided limited informal support; Treaders (n = 9) passively used mental health services and heavily exchanged informal support; Survivors (n = 5) used mental health services when in crisis and heavily provided informal support; and Strugglers (n = 4) avoided mental health services and took resources from informal connections. Findings have implications for both child and adult mental health and social service providers.
- Aging out
- Community mental health services
- Serious mental health conditions
- Social support
- Transition to adulthood