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Exit from care - developing a perspective



During the last few years, I have concentrated much of my time on developing the Leaving Care perspective in Child Welfare work in Norway. This work has resulted in The Norwegian Leaving Care Project, two studies, several conferences and two books on leaving care issues.

My reflections have led me to the conclusion that the term 'aftercare', frequently used in Norway, is not the best conceptual tool for identifying this work. I believe that this term limits rather than widens our associations, when we are engaged in the art of helping young people take an active part in their own lives in the transition from care to independence. The last part of the term 'aftercare'; "-care", points in the wrong direction when we want to describe the work with young people going through the transition. These young people do not need to be cared for, they need to be enabled to manage their own lives and their everyday living. In doing so, they need support, but not what we ordinarily mean when we provide care.


Reflections on concepts are helpful when comparing leaving care issues globally. My aim is to contribute to development of useful concepts used when focusing on the work with young people in care, and in their transition to independence. The international exchange of knowledge on the transition was strengthened by Stein and Munro (2008), published this spring. In a comparative perspective, we find that concepts used contain hidden understandings on practice, and that is why it is vital to examine these concepts. In my article 'Exit - developing a perspective' (Storø 2008), I argue for developing the professional ways of thinking about the transition to independent life for care leavers. My paper refers mainly to this article.

Key findings

Traditionally, Child Welfare work is based upon what could be called an entrance perspective. In the article I state that this perspective is problem-focused and describes events and actions of the past. An alternative perspective is based upon young people's exit from care. This perspective enables us to develop work with the young people. In this stage it will be more appropriate to give attention to what comes in the future and to the young person's possibilities.

My first point is that most development and research - and practice - in the child welfare field relate to the beginning, or to the start, of the work. To a large extent, workers tend to focus on the past and on the legislative aspects of the "case". These matters dominate the understanding that leads to actions that must be taken. The work, in this stage, is largely determined by defined procedures, and there is little room for professional creativity. Perhaps this is the way it necessarily must be when beginning the work with a child welfare client.

An exit perspective, in contrast, gives us the possibility to free our practice from these dominating issues. In the exit stage it is possible to look ahead. The problem focus can be traded with a resource perspective. At some stage in a young person's stay in a foster home or residential care, we need to shift focus from what led to the placement, over to a perspective focusing upon the future. This can represent a shift to resource thinking for professional enablers who want to prepare the youth for an independent adult life.

What kind of practice theory is useful in the exit? I suggest that we should look to a possible contribution by a perspective concerned with constructive social work, which leads us to a narrative approach. This perspective focuses on the individual's possibilities rather than limitations and on the individual's ability to proactively create qualitatively new life chances by developing alternative ways of understanding oneself and one's situation. Constructionists are engaged in explaining the power of subjective processes where language is playing a major role. It is claimed that humans are able to construct meaning by their use of language. New possibilities are constructed by telling stories in new ways.

Recommendations and implications

The exit perspective should also represent a tool for understanding what type of work needs to be done during placement. Our social pedagogy model is thereby challenged to develop new practice. The exit-perspective outlined in the article tells us that working with young people in the last stage of their adolescence, provides us with the duty to concentrate on their future life. I suggest that this duty is best undertaken by working constructively with the goal of enabling young people to handle their own lives - first and foremost by coping with everyday challenges. This approach should be practiced through a dialogue with the young person. The dialogue is used to create new ways for her or him to tell their story. A social constructionist approach to working with young people provides a great deal of emphasis upon retelling the story of one's life.

Key references

Stein, M. and Munro, E.R. (2008): Young People's Transitions from Care to Adulthood: International Research and Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Storø, J. (2008) 'Exit from care - developing a perspective'. Journal of Comparative Social Welfare 24, 1, 13-21.

Contact details Jan Storø, Associate Professor, Oslo University College, P.O. Box, St.Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo.

Email: jan.storo@sam.hio.no

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