How Can You Not Drive? YOU CAN! DRIVE!


Few youths with foster care experience acquire a driver’s license given the absence of dedicated caregivers able to provide the resources to learn to drive. Lacking a driver’s license leaves these youths dependent on public transportation or friends who can drive, as well as limited in getting to school, work, or appointments. These barriers are unacceptable given the strong evidentiary link between poorer mental health outcomes and inconsistent access to healthcare systems, education, employment, and housing throughout life among youths in foster care who were exposed to caregiver neglect and/or abuse (Fryar et al., 2017). Disrupting the continued inequities imposed by childhood trauma histories is a public health priority. This manuscript will confront the complexities of driver licensure among youths with foster care histories.


Driver’s license acquisition improves mobility and impacts social determinants. Youths with a driver’s license were more likely to be employed, have a higher personal or household income, and higher educational achievement than non-drivers (Le Vine & Polak, 2014). High school seniors who reported no weekly earnings were almost three times (2.8) more likely to be non-drivers than those who reported a weekly income (Shults et al., 2016). Additionally, associations found between driving and psychological well-being among youths in foster care (Berridge, 2017) and non-foster-care peers (Audrey & Langford, 2014) suggest that driver’s license acquisition could mediate or moderate pathways between social determinants and health outcomes. Youths with foster care experience who do not have a driver’s license have a more difficult time finding and keeping employment (Shults et al., 2016), attending school, accessing healthcare (Collins & Thomas, 2018), and maintaining social networks (Syed et al., 2013).

Disruptions in access to social networks is problematic given its role in healthy development. Access to social networks has been associated with reductions in problem behaviors, improved social-emotional competence, and resilience during foster care (Sanders et al., 2017). Benefits associated with engagement with others is developmentally rooted in cognitive, emotional, and social gains noted in infancy afforded by locomotion and achievement of independent mobility (Anderson et al., 2013). Opportunities to engage with one’s environment confers a bidirectional effect with locomotion supporting development and development supporting locomotion (Anderson et al., 2013).

Several gaps in licensure exist for youths in foster care. Approximately 73% of high school seniors obtain
a driver’s license in the United States (U.S.) (Atkinson, 2018), yet only 3% of 16–17-year-olds with foster
care experience obtained a driver’s license in Florida (Florida Department of Children and Families, 2013).
Although the 2014 federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act mandated states in the U.S. to ensure youths who leave foster care have driver’s licenses (National Conference of State Legislatures: Children and Family, 2017), data to evaluate how well these priorities translate to licensure are lacking. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of attempting or acquiring a driver’s license by young adults who were in or had left foster care.

Design and Methods

We used van Manen’s (1990, 2014) Phenomenology of Practice approach to answer the research question. The use of a phenomenological approach is intended to capture an experience in such a way that the description resonates with the reader and provides insight into the phenomena. The phenomenological attitude inspires us to see the meaning and essential elements of common human experiences (van Manen & van Manen, 2021). The phenomenologist seeks to describe a mystery through words untainted by familiarity and communication of themes unique to the phenomenon such that these themes make the phenomenon what it is, and without which it could not exist (van Manen, 1990). For example, attainting a birth certificate or completing driving practice hours may be details hidden within a common human experience of getting a driver’s license, often taken for granted by those not in foster care. Exploring this phenomenon with participants having foster care histories reveals these essential elements; otherwise, these details might remain hidden or taken-for-granted. A phenomenologist aims to capture elements of a common and recognized event, known as a “lived experience,” that are unique to that experience. The importance of gathering experience descriptions is not to objectify phenomena by fact; rather, examples function as devices to enable a reader to gain access to a taken-for-granted phenomenon (van Manen & van Manen, 2021). In this study, the lived experience of attempting or acquiring a driver’s license among young adults in or after leaving foster care was explored.

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