Social worker research has indicated that the lives of young people leaving care at 18 could be improved if more supports were in place to help them through “a distinct life phase” rather than assuming they became an adult on turning 18.
The study, entitled The Transition to Adulthood, was conducted by a Tusla social work team leader, Alison Browne, as part of a programme within the agency encouraging practitioners to incorporate research into their daily practice.
Ms Browne reviewed literature looking at the issues children in care experience as they transition to adulthood and found that while many people are happy to be leaving the care system at 18, the “emerging adulthood” phase sometimes brought uncertainty and setbacks.
Ms Browne said young people leaving residential care do not have the advantage of the gradual transitions to adulthood that the majority of young people experience, including the chance to stay longer in school and leave home later and return if financial or relationship problems arise.
Protective factors such as planning in advance for these challenges and reliable and consistent social attachments can help, and Ms Browne referred to the obligation on Tusla to provide aftercare, which she said was part of the “social scaffolding” that could help young people ageing out of care.
“The big piece that I got from the research is to consider that phase as a distinct phase,” she said. “The more services start to think of this as a distinct phase the better they will be catered for.”
Currently people can avail of aftercare at ages 18, 19 and 20. According to Ms Browne’s research: “Legislative changes along with government and Agency policy can assist social work practitioners in their work with aged out young people and provide them with a second chance.”
So far 170 Tusla social workers have taken part in the empowering practitioners and practice programme of learning.
Just last October a conference organised by EPIC (Empowering Young People in Care) and Care Leavers Ireland heard that some young people still face uncertainty around the level of supports open to them once they leave the care system.
Terry Dignan, chief executive of EPIC, said a young person leaving care at 18 can receive continued financial support to the age of 23 if they enter continuing or further education, but if they do not, supports end at 21 — a situation he said should change, with greater flexibility needed.
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