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New project investigates success after being in care

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What makes some children in public care go on to do well as young adults? And what does “doing well” mean to young women and men, and young adults with different backgrounds? These are the central questions in a cross-national study underway in Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom.

“Against all Odds” is a joint project between SFI in Denmark, NOVA in Norway, and the University of Sussex and the Thomas Coram Research Unit in Great Britain.

The overall aim is to generate more knowledge about how young adults who are in or have been in public care can succeed against all odds, and explore the factors that facilitate and have an impact on positive life-course outcomes for young people leaving care or formerly in care in three countries. We have chosen a cross-country comparative approach, since across a number of Western countries, children in care are known to have less positive outcomes than children with similar social characteristics, who have not been in care.

The project is in the early stages now and will end in late 2017.

Research questions

The main research questions of the proposed project are:

  • How do young women and men from minority and majority cultures in three different countries themselves define what “positive outcomes” means?
  • To what extent will young adults with public-care experiences follow expected transition periods among young adults in general, or to what extent will they define themselves as meeting special obstacles and challenges?
  • What are useful indicators of positive outcomes as defined in administrative data sets and relevant policy documents, and to what extent do these vary across countries?
  • How can the knowledge generated by the project as a whole contribute to timelier and better services for young adults with a public-care background?

Methods

The project objective and research issues presuppose a mixed-methods design, which will be organised in the following ways:

Document analyses in all three countries of relevant legislation and a wide range of policy frameworks which are pertinent to the situation of young people after leaving care, including social welfare (benefits), child protection (post-care measures), housing, etc.

Administrative data at national level will be used to describe general characteristics of post-care young adults, particularly those who do well on normative outcomes connected with education, employment, and not being dependent on social assistance.

A qualitative approach with focus on life-course and biographically oriented interviews. Several approaches may be used in addition to the planned in-depth life-course interviews. One is to ask the young adults to record their life histories through taping them or writing them down, and then to give these to the researchers. Another is to ask the young adults to take photographs of items, places, or situations they associate with significant events. Both these approaches may help the young adults remember and reflect on persons, events or processes which are significant to them.

The biographies and life histories and photographs elicited in this manner will serve as the basis for interviewing the young adults a second time, one year later. This will enable the researchers and the young adults to reflect in a more goal-directed way about important turning points and events.

Respondents

In order to capture the developmental processes taking place between the end of the teens and the end of the twenties, the design includes three groups of young adults:

Young people in care who attend high school and are on the brink of adulthood, but primarily still in care (aged 16-17). Their future will be fairly open compared to those who are older, and we will focus on their expectations and aspirations. Participants will be recruited among those attending high school, through the child welfare services.

Young adults who have left care few years previously and would normally be in employment or finalizing their education (aged 23-24).They will have had a relatively short time frame in which to establish themselves with education and employment. Here we wish to recruit young adults who have completed higher education or vocational education, or have been in employment for at least one year.

Young adults (aged 28-29) who will be expected to have travelled further along the path to adult independence. For this group we will recruit informants who have finished their education and are stably employed.

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