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Paper

Transition to adulthood for young Swedish care leavers

abstract

This poster draws on results from a study where 16 young care leavers between the age of 18 and 22 were interviewed. Telephone interviews were also performed with the young care leavers' parents, social workers, foster carers and institutional staff. The aim of the study was to describe and analyse the situation for 16 young care leavers in Göteborg and Stockholm. How did these young people perceive their transition from care to independent life? What support did they ask for, and what support did they actually get? How did their care givers (foster carers/residential staff) and biological parents perceive their task in the transitional phase?
 
Key findings
In the perspective of the prolonged phase of transition to adulthood for young people, this places young Swedish care leavers in a particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable position. The gap between young care leavers and their peers, with no previous care experiences, tends to be widened.
This study points out that the Swedish welfare models as well as the family oriented welfare discourse are important elements in understanding the vulnerable position of young care leavers. Result shows that young care leavers have a pronounced need for social, emotional, practical and economical support. Such support is occasionally given by foster carers and residential staff, seldom by social services, and biological parents. Not enough attention seems to be paid to the importance of stable, safe and trusting relations with significant persons. The results from this study give evidence of how important such stable relationships - a "secure base" - can be for a successful transition from care to adulthood.

This group of care leavers is at risk of facing severe problems in the transitional phase from care to independent life, a fact which is not acknowledged by the Swedish welfare system.

Recommendations and implications
Although the purpose of placing children and young people in care is to protect them from maltreatment, the state takes on a great responsibility that is closely associated with parenting and preparing them for an adult and independent life.

Evidently, there is a gap in the relations between the state, the family and the individual citizen; the young care leaver. This means that young people leaving care are at risk of being deprived of adequate support in the transition from care to adulthood. A more systematised and elaborated system is needed, which gives attention to, and is directed towards this vulnerable group of young people. Such a system could provide adequate emotional and practical support, and thus decrease the gap between the group of young care leavers and young people in general. We find the lack of systematised leaving care services and programmes, and the limited interest from social services for this group, hard to explain. In order to gain more knowledge is it necessary with further research to get a more general and broader picture. Important issues for future research in Sweden is to map the way local authorities organise young peoples' care leaving, and to find out what young people themselves perceive to be vital for a successful transition from care to independent life. Results from this research could be of importance when implementing new leaving care services.

Key references
Broad, B. (2005) 'Young People Leaving Care: Implementing the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000?' Children and Society 19, 371 - 384.

Eydal, G.B. and Satka, M. (2006) 'Social work and Nordic welfare policies for children - present challenges in the light of the past.' European Journal of Social Work 9, 3, 305 - 322.

Vinnerljung, B., Hjern, A. and Lindblad, F. (2005) 'Suicide attempts and severe psychiatric morbidity among former child welfare clients - a national cohort study.' Journal of Child and Psychiatry 47, 7, 723 - 733.

Vinnerljung B., Öman, M. and Gunnarsson, T. (2005) 'Educational attainments of former child welfare clients - a Swedish national cohort study.' International Journey of Social Welfare 14, 265 - 276.

Stein, M. (2006) 'Research Review: Young people leaving care.' Child and Family Social Work 11, 273 - 279.

Contact details
Ingrid Höjer, PhD., Department of Social Work, Göteborg University, Box 720, 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.
Email: Ingrid.Hojer@socwork.gu.se

Yvonne Sjöblom, PhD., Department of Social Work, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Email: Yvonne.Sjoblom@socarb.su.se

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