About the project

This research was about…

How to support the well-being of young adults with leaving-care experiences

This study searches for preventive client-based social work guidelines regarding how to support the well-being of young adults with leaving-care experiences.

The objective of this study, ‘Reciprocal Encounters – Young Adults Leaving Care’, is to develop preventive, client-based social work guidelines regarding how to support the well-being of young adults with leaving-care experiences. For the purposes of this study, leaving-care experiences include experiences of leaving family foster care, kinship care, treatment foster care and residential or group care. The study defines young adults as people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have left care and are starting their independent lives. The project will shed light on questions of alienation, loneliness and the division of the population – the opposite of reciprocal participation. Thus, it is increasingly important that we understand how being a reciprocally, as well as emotionally and socially, active participant in society increases the social well-being of individuals, as well as that of communities.

Participatory action and peer research with young adults who have experiences of leaving care

This study used participatory action and peer-research methods to undertake research with young adults.

This study used a complementary participatory action research methodology to explore the research questions. This process allows research to be conducted with the young adults rather than being carried out on them, thus delivering user-driven results. This study focused on the young adults’ experiences of leaving care and how to strengthen the young adults’ abilities to act in their communities and obtain new skills that will be useful, for instance, in their working lives.

The research team

The research team consisted of six co-researchers, three social care workers and four researchers.

The study involved two case studies of young adults who have left family or institutional care, one in England and one in Finland. These are taken to represent two welfare states in Europe and their child welfare or child protection services. The dataset for Finland already existed (n = 50), and a dataset was gathered from England (n = 24), using the same participatory action research methods as were used in Finland. The research process in England continued the earlier process.

In England, the researchers were looking for young adults with leaving-care experiences, who they deemed co-researchers because they conducted research with them. The researchers hoped to meet social care workers who were willing to join the research team. As in an optimal situation, the social care workers did know the co-researchers and were familiar with the leaving-care system and young adults who have left care. The role of social care workers was to be a link with leaving care system and also to support the researchers and the young adults learning the research skills. They did not conduct the interviews. The co-researchers interviewed peers with leaving-care experiences. The co-researchers were trained in the research skills necessary to conduct the interviews with their peers during 2016 and 2017. Both the six co-researchers with personal experience with the leaving-care system and the three social care workers were recruited via the host university’s local authority social work network. The interviewees were searched for via the snowball sampling method. The interviewees received a participation information sheet explaining their rights. The study process lasted two years, but the intensive period for the co-researchers lasted about nine months.

Research Ethics

Participation in the research was voluntary, and young people could refuse to take part without providing a reason. The young people’s names will not be reported to anyone, or no one will learn what they have said, unless they say something that makes the research team believe that another young person or child is being hurt by someone or is likely to be hurt by someone’s actions. This did not happen in our study. The results are written up in such a way that the persons are not identified.

The interviews took place in youth centres with drop-in services for young adults leaving care.

Who is the researcher and her mentor?

This research is being carried out by Maritta Törrönen, who is a professor in the Department of Social Research at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Maritta was given a Marie Curie-Sklodowski scholarship by the EU to conduct this research at Anglia Ruskin University for two years. She was supported by her mentor, Professor Carol Munn-Giddings, also from Anglia Ruskin University. Maritta has experience performing this type of research, and in the past, she has explored issues related to child welfare and childhood, youth and family research.

Contact details

Maritta Törrönen, Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland, email: maritta.l.torronen@helsinki.fi;

Visiting Professor of Anglia Ruskin University, Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care, Department for Education and Social Care, Chelmsford, UK

Carol Munn-Giddings, Professor, Anglia Ruskin University,Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care, Department for Education and Social Care, UK