In this short article, Mike Stein introduces his new book ‘Young People Leaving Care: Supporting Pathways to Adulthood’. He looks back at the research undertaken over the past 40 years and reflects on the development and challenges of leaving care services today.

 In 1975 I was working at Leeds University and was asked if I would help to run Ad-lib, a group for young people living in care.  One of the first topics raised by young people was ‘leaving care’ – ‘what is life like after you leave?’… ‘where do you live?’…‘how do you look after yourself?’…‘can you keep in touch with your children’s home staff’? I passed on all these questions!  I was at a complete loss, so the group agreed to invite young people who had recently left care to share their experiences with the Ad-lib group.  In addition, I tried to find out all I could about the topic – but I couldn’t find any research or publications.

Myself, and others raised a fuss and the Social Science Research Council (now the ESRC) funded a child care research programme. This led to the first study of the topic, carried out by Kate Carey and myself, simply called Leaving Care (Blackwell, 1986).  This study highlighted the many problems faced by young people who left care at just 16 to 18 years of age – where as most young people left their families in their early 20s – including loneliness, unemployment, homelessness, broken relationships and a lack of services to help them.

The research findings contributed to the development of leaving care services and from the 1990s onwards further studies were carried out in the UK, to evaluate the impact of legislation and a range of projects and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of care leavers were introduced.  Also, since 2003, leaving care researchers from 16 countries have come together to share their experiences.

Unlike the 1970s there is now a lot of research and knowledge about leaving care – myself and others wouldn’t have to ‘pass’ on questions about leaving care from young people – but like the 1970s there are still a lot of challenges in improving the lives of young people leaving care: they still need stable placements, they still need to leave care more gradually and later, and they still need to be supported into adulthood, not just at the time of leaving care.

Writing Young People Leaving Care gave me the opportunity to reflect upon the research findings over the last 40 years, and in particular, to bring out the messages from research for policy and practice today, of how young people might be best supported on their pathways to adulthood.

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