Mike Stein
Research Professor
A journey of ideas: presentation
• Setting the context
Why it is important to explore ideas as well as empirical
studies of young people leaving care
• The presentation will include a discussion of:
Social transitions
Attachment theory
Participation and children’s rights
Life course perspective
Social inclusion, universal and selective services
A resilience framework
A journey of ideas: setting the context
• Main body of international research on young people leaving care are
descriptive and empirical studies, using qualitative and quantitative data
• Many of these studies are detached from theory:
in terms of setting the context – being transparent about the ideas which have
informed the research
exploring ideas or concepts
contributing to theory building
• This presentation will explore selected approaches and perspectives - not
mutually exclusive; not the only possibilities – e.g. legal and human rights,
• The presentation will draw upon these publications
Stein, M. (2006) Young people aging out of care: the poverty of theory, Children
and Youth Services Review, 28
Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 12, 2011, Special Issue, Young People’s
Transitions from Care to Adulthood
Stein, M. (2012) Young People Leaving Care, Supporting Pathways to Adulthood,
Jessica Kingsley
A journey of ideas: social transitions
• Many care leavers have accelerated and compressed transitions to adulthood
• Cope with major changes, younger and in less time than other young people
• Stages and process of transition
disengagement – gradual leaving
transition – ‘space out’, exploration, reflection and identity search
re-integration – settling
• Normative process
increasingly more complex
more forward and backward movement
• Denied the psychological opportunity to deal with issues over time – which is how
most young people cope (Focal Theory)
• Policy and practice implications
Gradual transitions
Recognition of process and stages
Normative experiences
Voices of transition
‘If you live with you parents you have a choice
whether you leave home or not. In care you get
kicked out, you don’t feel you belong there once
you have left’
‘I want to get out of care but then I don’t want
because I don’t have anybody outside’
‘When we leave care why should they stop caring’
A journey of ideas: attachment theory
• Maltreatment within families – attachment problems
• Placement stability key mediator of positive adult
• Compensatory attachment, stability and continuity
• Further placement movement and disruption in care
• Contribute to relationship difficulties
• Increased detachment after leaving care and difficulties in
settling down in adulthood – drift and ‘not belonging’
• Policy and practice issues
Stability and continuity
Skilled social work practice
Voices of attachment
‘I’ve got a great big space around me which is mine and nobody enters,
and why I don’t know - whether it come from care, having been let
down so many times, or living with people for so many years and then
going and you never see them again …. you build up a barrier to
protect yourself … because you get hurt so many times …
‘People try and break it, to get in, and you don’t let them because you
are so frightened that it is going to happen again … you’re going to get
let down or hurt again, and that’s it with me you see. I never get to
know people … when you do get someone you cling to them so much
that you lose them … they can’t cope with the pressure you are
applying on them’.
‘I’ve moved around all my life, so it was hard trying to settle down’
A journey of ideas: life course perspective
• Sees young people’s lives as an integrated whole
Pre-care, in care, time of leaving care
• Recognises inter-connected dimensions of young people’s lives
How accommodation, health and well-being, and careers are connected
and reinforcing
• Recognises the inter-relationship between personal biography,
agency of young people and social and economic contexts
• Policy and practice
Interventions across the life-course
Inter-agency response
Impact of social and economic factors
Involving young people in services
Challenge to single outcome measures
The life course and outcome measures
‘Ethnographic research, using life course theory to explore the
transitions of young people leaving care reminds us of the complexities
in evaluating outcomes and the limitations of using single normative
measures at fixed points in time – such as educational attainment at 16
years of age …
There is a need to recognise the different starting points of young
people, given the diversity of their social and family backgrounds; their
care experiences; the dynamic nature of ‘outcomes’ for young people –
they often change between ‘official’ assessment periods; the
separation of outcome measures from each other, even though they
are often closely inter-connected …
… and the normative assumptions often held about young people,
whose lives have not been easy, achieving independence by 18 years of
A journey of ideas: participation and
children’s rights
• Right’s based approaches to children’s services
To uphold children’s rights and fulfil legal responsibilities
To improve services and decision making
To enhance the democratic process
To promote children’s protection
• Involving young people in decisions that affect their lives at both
an individual and policy level
• Individual involvement through ‘leaving care’ pathway planning
and review process
• Policy involvement through young people ‘in care’ organisations
and local authorities
• Participation and advocacy activity embedded within culture of
organisations – rights based approaches to children’s services
Examples of policy participation: LILAC,
Children in Care Councils and Pledges
‘The Lilac project, (Leading Improvements for Looked After
Children), organised by A National Voice, trained young people
from care to become inspectors of children’s services – to see
how well local authorities involve young people in their own
care, in the planning and evaluation of services which shape
their lives and how effectively they deal with complaints by
young people … they also train young people to carry out
assessments of how services involve young people in local areas,
and deliver training on participation
Young people are also represented on Children in Care councils
to review policies and produce ‘pledges’ – commitments by local
authorities to provide specific services
Social inclusion, universality and selectivity
• Young people leaving care are first and foremost are young people
• Their destiny is shaped in part by opportunities and policies common
to all young people, e.g. youth unemployment
• International research shows high risk of social exclusion for care
leavers – but also differences between care leavers and between
different groups of care leavers
• Social inclusion, universal and selective services
Universal policies to tackle social exclusion important, ‘connects’ care leavers with
other disadvantaged groups of young people.
But many remain high risk group – universal policies by themselves may have little
Selective or specialist policies needed as pathway by care leavers to access
universal services
‘Social investment model of support’
Important young people not ‘trapped’ within specialist welfare projects
A journey of ideas: a resilience framework
‘Resilience is ordinary magic’
• Overcoming the odds, coping and recovery
• Ecological perspective – individual development and social
• Gives coherence to ideas discussed above:
• Promoting resilience through:
Attachment. stability, continuity;
Positive sense of identity
Promotion of education, health and welfare
Social transition – gradual and extended;
Supporting pathways to adulthood
Across the life course - in care, leaving and after care, and;
Through universal and selective services
Summary points: ‘the poverty of theory’
• There is a growing body of empirical research studies and these
make an important contribution – more descriptive than
• Many of these studies are detached from theory in terms of
context, exploration of concepts and ideas and building theory
• Different ideas, theoretical approaches and perspectives have
been explored – and there are other possibilities
• This presentation demonstrates that it is important to link
empirical and theoretical work
• This has the potential to enhance our understanding of leaving
care issues, as well as the theoretical foundations of practice