Transitions from public care to independence
Emily Munro, Mike Stein and Harriet Ward
"Numerous researchers in different societies have found that, in contrast to their peers, care leavers experience `compressed and accelerated transitions’ (Stein, 2002; see also, Fernandez del Valle et al., 1999; Panchon et al., 1999).
Young people leaving care have to cope with challenges and responsibilities of major changes in their Lives – leaving foster care and residential care and setting up home, leaving school and entering the world of work, (or more likely, being unemployed and surviving on benefits) and being parents – at a far younger age than other young people. In short they have compressed and accelerated transitions (Stein, 2002, p. 68).
In addition to the likelihood of accelerated transitions, care leavers may also have experienced other risk factors that render them more vulnerable to poor outcomes than their peers (Stein, 2002). The inability or failure of the care system to meet their needs may be one such factor. However, needs and risks may more closely relate to their whole life experience. For instance, Skuse and Ward (2003) argue that the generally poor outcomes for this group become more understandable and less pronounced when their experiences prior to entry and during their time in care are also considered. Professionals also identify the importance of taking account of factors including age at entry to care, reasons for admission and duration of the care episode when considering expectations about what constitutes a good outcome for an individual child (Bhabra and Ghate, 2002). At present there is little evidence of systematic information being collected that would demonstrate how far children placed away from home lag behind their peers at entry to care or accommodation.
The importance of taking account of previous experiences is demonstrated by findings from a number of studies that show how many young people consider they have benefited from being placed away from home. Skuse and Ward (2003) found that 72% of young people leaving care thought their lives would have been worse had they not been looked after. Similarly, research undertaken in Israel found that 80% of young people thought that residential care had been good for them (Schiff and Benbenishty, 2003). Over half of respondents in a study in the United States who had aged out of foster care also felt they had been lucky to have been placed away from home (Courtney et al., 2004).
Care leavers are not a homogenous group (Skuse and Ward, 2003) and poor outcomes of some can mask the successes of others.
Stein (2002, 2004) has identified three groups:
Young People moving on, who are able to put their past experiences behind them
and welcome the challenge of moving towards independence; survivors, who may
demonstrate continuing dependency on services, but who regard themselves as
having been strengthened by the need to overcome numerous difficulties, and
victims, whose experience of care has generally failed to help them overcome
past difficulties, and who face independence with poor life chances. The
challenge lies in reducing the proportion of care leavers who experience adverse
outcomes and continuing social exclusion in adulthood."
Munro, E., Stein, M., & Ward, H. (2005) Comparing how different social, political and legal frameworks support or inhibit transitions from public care to independence in Europe, Israel, Canada and the United States. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, Vol.8 No.4, pp. 197-198