Choice or Chance: Career Development and Girls with Emotional or Behavior Disorders

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT This study examined the career aspirations of young women with behavioral disorders and the life experiences that contributed to those aspirations. Data, including open-ended interviews and written questionnaires, were collected via qualitative techniques. A grounded theory methodology was used to identify, categorize, and connect themes.

The study confirms the importance of career development for women with behavioral disorders. Three overriding issues stand out from these personal stories. First, school experiences are important to career development. Although most participants were disengaged with the academic components of their educational plans, they were highly engaged with their school-supported vocational experiences. Second, family cohesion had a significant effect on career aspirations. Third, participants believe they have little control over their lives, including their career choices. Implications for practitioners are discussed.

I don't really plan for things, like me going to college. It might happen, but I'm not planning for it because you never know what's going to happen the next day. Tomorrow I could wake up dead. Tomorrow I could wake up a millionaire. You never know. Life is just chance. (Susan)

* Of all the things that form lifestyle, career may be most important. It provides economic support while affecting social status (Farmer, 1995; Lankard, 1994; Roe & Lunneborg, 1990), and self-concept (Super, 1994). Unfortunately, people with disabilities have dramatically high rates of unemployment and these rates are higher still for women with behavioral disorders (BD) (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Women and Disability Awareness Project, 1989). Furthermore, vocational education programs are often gender segregated and prepare young women to enter low-wage, traditionally female occupations (American Association of University Women, 1998).

Several studies provide a variety of research contributions about the educational needs and postschool outcomes for students with disabilities and for girls in general (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Lindstrom & Benz, 2002; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997; Silverman & Pritchard, 1994). None, however, offer specific insight into the career development needs of girls with BD. This study investigated the career development process through methodology that allowed participants to have control and power in both the information they gave and the conclusions that were drawn from that information.

Method

Qualitative research is a multimethod approach to studying phenomena in their natural settings. To do this, the qualitative researcher uses interpretive and naturalistic methods. The purpose of a qualitative study is to interpret the meaning individuals bring to the phenomenon under study (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), a researcher should use grounded theory when "you want to explain phenomena in light of a theoretical framework that evolves during the research itself land not a] previously developed theory that may or may not apply" (pp. 49-50). I chose a grounded theory framework because the research question "What are the factors that affect the career aspirations of female adolescents with behavioral disorders?" could not be answered sufficiently with response surveys. It was imperative to learn from participants themselves which areas of career development need further research in relation to their needs.

Participants

Fifteen female secondary education students identified with BD from an urban mid-western school district participated in this study (see Table 1). Their ages ranged from 14 to 19 years. Eight of the students identified themselves as White, five as African American, and two as Latina. The school district identified each participant as having a low socioeconomic background based on her qualification for the free or reduced-price lunch program. …