Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name





Adolescence, Foster care, Help seeking behaviour


Menna, R.




Adolescents in foster care experience higher rates of mental health and behavioural problems compared to those who have never been in care (e.g., Pecora, Jensen, Romanelli, Jackson, & Ortiz, 2009). It is thus vital that they acquire help seeking skills, as this may reduce psychological distress (Ciarrochi, Deane, Wilson, & Rickwood, 2002). Given that previous research has identified unique aspects in the help seeking process of youth in care (Blower et al., 2004; Pryce, Napolitano, & Samuels, 2017; Stanley, 2007; Unrau & Grinnell, 2006), the present study sought to gain a deeper understanding of this process from multiple perspectives, and to enhance the Model of Help Seeking Behaviour Among Adolescents in Care (Johnson & Menna, 2017). The sample included 37 participants from four different groups, including: nine adolescents in care (seven females, two males) aged 13 to 17 years (M = 14.89; SD = 1.36); twelve foster care alumni (four males, eight females) aged 18 to 67 years (M = 26.75, SD = 14.28), six foster parents (one male, five females) aged 47 to 69 years (M = 56.83; SD = 8.21), and ten female child protection workers aged 29 to 49 years (M = 40.90; SD = 6.22). Participants completed semi-structured in-person or telephone interviews. Adolescents were interviewed about their experiences related to mental health and help seeking, and foster care alumni were interviewed about their help seeking behaviour during their time in care. Foster parents and child protection workers were interviewed in the interest of enriching the first-hand accounts of youth and alumni. The data were analyzed using Grounded Theory procedures (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Interviews from each sub-population in the study were coded independently, and then compared to each other and to the existing theory in order to improve the model and to identify key themes (Corbin & Strauss, 1994). The findings provided an enriched understanding of the help seeking behaviours of adolescents in foster care, and resulted in revisions to the Model of Help Seeking Behaviour Among Adolescents in Care (Johnson & Menna, 2017). The key revisions to the model included: 1) the addition of factors that may influence the occurrence or presence of a mental health or behavioural problem (i.e., previous experiences, unique factors/experiences related to foster care, and systemic variables); 2) the elaboration of the “evaluation of supports” stage of help seeking, including the importance of relationship factors and helper traits; and 3) the expansion of the parallel “help receiving” or “help without asking” process to include the influence of caregiver characteristics, and possible resources accessed on behalf of the adolescent. The importance of relationships also emerged as a key concept in the data. Specifically, relationship factors were important to the help seeking process of adolescents in care (i.e., in the evaluation of available sources of support); however, paradoxically, the presence of trusting, positive, stable relationships may be lacking for them. This revised model serves as a unique contribution to the literature and provides a foundation from which to further examine and bolster the help seeking behaviour of adolescents in care. In light of the results, applied implications are described. Continued efforts to understand the lived experiences, perceptions, and opinions of adolescents in care and those most closely involved in their lives are warranted in order to best understand and support the help seeking behaviour of this unique population.