Young adults leaving care in need of caring and emotionally significant relationships

In a study, young adults emphasised the importance of stability for their personal wellbeing when embarking on an independent life after foster care. In practice, this meant the continuity of socially and emotionally significant relationships, engendering a feeling of belonging, connecting the youth with other individuals and supporting their self-esteem.

These were the results of Reciprocal Encounters – Young Adults Leaving Care, a research project carried out collaboratively by the University of Helsinki and Anglia Ruskin University in England.

Young adults with experience of leaving care interviewed peers who had lived with a foster family or in a child protection institution. The study focused particularly on the young people’s view on how child- and family-specific child protection services support or hamper stability in their everyday life.

The results indicate that young adults leaving care require personal support and caring from other individuals, as well as sufficient freedom to strive for their own goals and desires.

“Education, work, training and other worthwhile activities together with sufficient income foster stability in the everyday life of young individuals starting independent life after leaving care,” says Maritta Törrönen, professor of social work at the University of Helsinki.

According to the study, young people must be provided an opportunity to become connected with a certain caring community that the youth themselves want to nurture and represent.

“The stability of relationships guarantees increasing familiarity and closeness with certain individuals, which means the ability to share positive experiences and memories with them. Such positive experiences are usually associated with certain locations, which the youth recognise as familiar,” says Törrönen.

Most feel fine

The interviewees’ experiences regarding their wellbeing and independence vary greatly. The interviews reveal that some 60 % of the youth consider their health and security very good, 30 % good enough and 10 % not good.

The research report highlights certain needs for change to make the everyday life of the young people smoother. Some interviewees consider their wellbeing fine and their treatment just.

“What was most touching was to hear about certain young adults’ loneliness and the lack of future opportunities, comprising good grounds for the further development of social work in this important field,” explains Törrönen.

Community orientation can benefit child protection work

The study demonstrates that future social work can learn from the experiences of young adults leaving care in Finland and England. Supporting the reciprocal emotional participation of young adults requires three distinct advancements: redesigning the orientation of child- and family-specific child protection work, improving psychosocial support provided to youth and enabling a gradual transition to independence.

“Child- and family-specific child welfare services can benefit from a community orientation based on a comprehensive notion of wellbeing and an understanding of long-term social networks,” says Törrönen.

Education, employment, meaningful activities and sufficient income are factors important to the stability of young people’s everyday life.

“Supporting emotional wellbeing and providing special services is also important, especially when young people have trouble leading their lives due to mental health problems or substance abuse,” Törrönen notes.

The research project was carried out as participatory action research. Young people 17–32 years of age who have left care (n = 74) were interviewed by other young adults who have also gained independence from foster or institutional care. The interviews were carried out in England in 2016–2018 (24 interviews) and in Finland in 2011–2012 (50 interviews).

The recent research report compiles recommendations based on youth experiences on how future social work can be developed together with young people leaving foster care.

Further information:

Maritta Törrönen

Tel. +358 50 415 1627