Smith, Jennifer

Committee Member

Helm, Heather

Committee Member

Tian, Lu

Committee Member

Romero, Deborah


Applied Psychology and Counselor Education Counselor Education and Supervision


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



254 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


It is estimated that approximately 60% of children have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime (Wiest-Stevenson & Lee, 2016). Research in the last 20 years has shown the impact of childhood trauma on human development, social development, and learning, and yet, there is very little literature in school counseling about this topic (Perry, 2001, 2006). School counselors play in essential role in identifying barriers that impede students from receiving a high-quality education (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012), and are charged with reducing the educational attainment gap for the students they serve (Milsom & McCormick, 2015). There are many student populations that are at-risk of experiencing trauma, such as, children experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities, or involvement with the juvenile justice system (Fritz, 2017). Although any student could be at-risk of experiencing trauma, youth in foster care often have a history of childhood trauma (Beyerlein & Bloch, 2014). School counselors are in the position to advocate for youth by assisting them to excel academically and provide social and emotional support, especially for foster youth. Youth in foster care rarely get the opportunity to have their voices heard in the literature, particularly as it pertains to their experience with trauma. Most of the literature about trauma and education is deficit based, and does not provide insight into the lived experiences of foster youth. This dissertation study addresses the gap in the literature through a phenomenological examination of nine former foster youth’s experience of the kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) education system. Results of this study yielded eight primary themes and 43 secondary themes based on the data. The final identification of primary themes included: within the home environment; impact on learning; within the foster care system; impactful connections; emotional impact; motivators; and posttraumatic growth. The results provide a rich and thick description of what the phenomenon of being a student who has experienced trauma during K-12 education experiences, the former foster youth’s interactions with school counselors, and the lived experience of growth despite trauma. Implications of this study include viewing trauma through a strengths-based lens, making impactful connections, and recognizing the possibility of posttraumatic growth were beneficial to the youth in this study. A discussion of the results, limitations, areas for future research, and implications for school counselors and counselor educators are provided.

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