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The necessity of support for young people leaving care

When young people leave an institution or a foster home to start their independent life, they are in need of support. Before the transition, from state care to independent living, they should be well prepared and the transition should be planned. These recommendations are well established in international research.

In Norway, young people can decide for themselves if they want further support after having moved to an independent life when they reach eighteen. This means that the Child Welfare Service can not force such help on the young person. However, Norwegian legislation does not give young people a right to such help. The support can be given by the foster parents, by the staff of the institution they have lived in, or from the Child Welfare Service. The Child Welfare Service responsible for the placement takes the final decision. Only if the Child Welfare Service and the young person agree, such support can be given. The support can at the most be given until the young person is 23 years old. The help that Child Welfare Service can provide varies. At its best it should take into consideration the needs and situation of the individual young person. For some young people, especially those living in a foster home, it is quite usual to offer them a longer stay in the foster home, so that they can finish high school (which in Norway ends at nineteen). Economical support can also be given. But maybe the most important type of support is the emotional support from one (or more) specific adult. Young people at eighteen are often in need of such support when they face the many challenges of the transition. The transition can be a lonely experience.

In 2005 I published a study on the transition based on qualitative interviews of a small group of young people having left care in Norway*. In other research it has been revealed that the transition is viewed differently by the adults working with the young people and the young people themselves. I aimed, in my study, to seek the young people's own stories about the transition.

Most of the young people talked about a difficult, that is, challenging transition to independent life. They described the transition as a complex process where the order of the different stages was not fixed. However, most of them said to cope reasonably well at the time of the interviews. Six of the eight young people had experienced positive moves from the institution or the foster home, and two told about a negative move. The positive moves were done in a generally positive climate where the young people experienced supportive relationships to at least one adult. In these cases the young person gave him -or herself some time to go through the transition. The negative moves had in common that the young person did not experience the support of adults, and that he (both were boys) forced the transition by moving out before the planned point of time. Access to good support from adults was the most important single element dividing the positive from the negative moves. All the informants had experienced planned and prepared moves, but for two of them this was not enough that it went on as planned. They moved in conflict with the adults. Their transition seemed to be more risky than the transition of the others.

The young people put much weight to the relationships to the carers as source for support. They also put weight to engagement from the carers. Those who had a relation to one specific adult, where that particular adult engaged over an amount of time, told the most positive stories. It was mostly the carers in the foster home or the institution that was mentioned, to a lesser degree the biological parents. The young people also pointed to the importance of new relations to friends and the new family. These relationships were love relationships to a partner and relationships to a child by becoming parents.

It is not possible to generalize from this small scale, qualitative study to all care leavers. But the findings give attention to the importance of good support in the transition to independence, and this is highlighted in other studies as well. Further studies are needed to explore the transition.


* Storø, J. (2005): Å gå over brennende bruer. En kvalitativ studie av barnevernungdommer overgang til en selvstendig tilværelse. Høgskolen i Oslo (Oslo University College)
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