Preparation of young people for independent living in children’s care homes: a comparative study

Preparation of young people for independent living in children's care homes: a comparative study
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The transition to adulthood for young people is becoming a longer and more complex period, which in many European countries usually ends only in the late twenties. But for people who have been placed in alternative care as children or teenagers after being separated from their families, the process is particularly difficult. In addition to early negative experiences (such as neglect, abuse, neglect, etc.), they are usually forced to face a much more abrupt and compressed process of transition to independent living. This process usually begins when they turn 18, when they leave childcare facilities and need to quickly become independent (secure a job, maintain their own housing, gain personal autonomy).

These shortcomings are particularly relevant in those countries where emancipation from the family home is further delayed. This is the case in Spain, where, as in other southern European countries, young people do not leave their family home on average until they are 29 or 30 years old (EUROSTAT, 2021). Although there are no official figures, it is estimated that in Spain up to 5,000 young people leave foster care every year at the age of 18 and can receive very different levels of support depending on their situation and the region where they live (Observatorio de la Infancia, 2020). The transition to adulthood will present more challenges for most care leavers in important areas of successful emancipation, such as education or employment, leading to poorer outcomes and greater difficulties in social integration and well-being (Gypen et al., 2017). ).

To overcome these risks, the international research community agrees on the importance of providing care-experienced youth with adequate preparation to leave care and tailored support until they become fully independent (Harder et al., 2020), which was not recognized by the Spanish. national laws until 2015 Such interventions, commonly referred to as “independent living programs, ILPs,” are designed to help youth in care develop basic independent living skills necessary for life (eg, budgeting, household management, job skills). etc.). Although participation in these programs has been associated with some degree of positive outcomes for young people (Woodgate et al., 2017), their evaluations rarely provide direct insight into improvements in young people’s ILS. In fact, only a few studies have addressed this issue (see Häggman-Laitila et al., 2019), despite the fact that it can be a measure of the effectiveness of these interventions. In fact, the tradition of measuring ILS in care-experienced youth is quite limited, as only a few instruments (eg, the Casey Life Skills Assessment) have been developed and used, and even fewer have been psychometrically tested.

When these measures have been used, the general finding is that youth in care tend to perceive themselves as having high life skills (Benbenishty & Schiff, 2009; Casey et al., 2010), which contrasts with more gloomy perceptions of parents or parents. caregivers when requested (Trout et al., 2014). However, these perceptions have never been tested against those of care-naive youth, as ILPs will attempt to promote higher levels of ILS in care-experienced people than their age-matched peers.

The purpose of this piece research Research aimed to fill this gap by comparing the perceived readiness for independent living of a group of Spanish care-experienced youth with their peers from the general population without alternative care experience. The research was guided by the following research questions:

  1. Do young people in care feel more skilled and prepared to cope with independent living than their peers without the prospect of early emancipation?
  2. Do these differences vary by age?
  3. Which variables are the best predictors of perceived ILS?
  4. Do they differ between experienced youth and their peers versus the general population?

This study involved 508 young people aged 14-17 years living in Spain, divided into two groups: 279 young people with care experience, living in orphanages or care homes, and 229 young people from the general population. group. They did not differ in age and gender in all groups. Participants were asked to answer a short online survey that included the following tests:

  1. PLANEA Independent Living Skills Assessment (García-Alba et al., 2021): enables the assessment of young people’s perceived level of ILS (their perceived ability to perform certain tasks) and personal autonomy (their actual degree of independence in performing certain tasks). . It is a recently validated tool used in Spain with the PLANEA program: an online tool that childcare facilities can use to promote young people’s ILS and independence in children’s homes (Del Valle & García-Alba, 2021; see
  2. General Self-Efficacy Scale (Sanjuán et al., 2000): It measures belief in the ability of one’s actions to achieve specific outcomes. High self-efficacy can be protective, but several authors have recognized how it can be negatively affected by the child care environment.
  3. Key Participant Data Profile Characteristics: A short set of questions that captures the sociodemographic profile of participants, including age, gender, occupation, education, and work experience. In addition, care workers completed a questionnaire about the characteristics of their placement for each young person in the care-experienced group.

After analyzing the data, we confirmed what had already been systematically found in previous education studies (Montserrat et al., 2015). Young people with care experience are less likely to study and pursue higher education beyond the age of compulsory education (16 in Spain) than their peers. The proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) was higher (7.9%) than in the general population (3.6%), with 16% among 18-21 year olds. No differences were found in the levels of work experience between the groups.

Regarding perceived level of ILS, care-experienced youth did not differ in overall scores from comparison groups, but felt more proficient in some areas. First, they became more adept at engaging in behaviors related to the self-care and well-being subscale of PLANEA, including behaviors related to healthy living and avoiding risky behaviors (eg, contraceptive use, healthy eating, and leisure use) and self. – care and daily living skills (eg cleaning, cooking and personal hygiene). The same trend was more evident for skills related to job search and independent living, according to their higher scores on the PLANEA employment and accommodation subscale (eg writing a CV, finding a place to live and budgeting). These results are consistent with their level of personal autonomy, as experienced youth reported being more independent in tasks related to daily life skills at home (e.g., cooking, cleaning, and laundry). Previous research has also shown that young people in care feel more skilled in these areas, which are also commonly addressed in transitional support services and ILP (Casey et al., 2010; Dinisman & Zeira, 2011; Trout et al., 2014). ).

In contrast, no differences were found between the groups in their ability to manage daily activities in the community (eg, seeing doctors, filling out applications, and shopping). We believe that these areas may be under-addressed in child care homes to the benefit of more practical areas.

The gender of the participants did not influence the different levels of ILS and personal autonomy between the groups. However, girls felt more qualified and independent than boys, regardless of their group, related to autonomy at home (doing chores, eating healthy, etc.). These results in the context of childcare are comparable to previous studies that also found that girls felt more prepared to take care of themselves (Huscroft-D’Angelo et al., 2013), but other studies found no differences in this area (Casey et al. ., 2010). It may also reflect early adolescent adoption of traditional gender roles that assign women more responsibility for health care and daily life tasks at home, which has been observed in early adolescence when girls spend more time on housework and personal care than boys. (Gracia et al., 2021). Such findings highlight the importance of using a gender perspective in future research related to readiness to leave care and perceived life skills.

Regarding self-efficacy, care-experienced youth had lower levels than their peers in the general population, which is consistent with previous literature suggesting that caregiving may influence the development of self-efficacy and self-esteem through perceived constraints. and the powerlessness of young people’s actions and decisions throughout their lives (Hokanson et al., 2019; Stein, 2005). However, this difference was only found in the 16–17 year age group, perhaps reflecting increased fear and stress among young people in the months leading up to leaving care, as suggested by Crous et al. (2020) documents.

Finally, we observed that self-efficacy and personal autonomy were very closely related to the level of ILS in both groups, but work experience made a significant contribution only in the nursing group. These results support that engaging in ‘hands-on’ activities and real-life experiences before leaving care and care leaving support services can be critical in promoting real change in young people’s ILS, agency and autonomy (Dinisman & Zeira). , 2011). In particular, early work experiences seem to have a decisive influence on the development of their social capital, improving their chances of succeeding in future work and higher education (Arnau-Sabatés & Gilligan, 2020; Hook & Courtney, 2011).

To our knowledge, this study was the first to compare the life skills and personal self-efficacy ratings of care-experienced youth with those of their non-caregiving peers. Our study may have several implications for policy and practice. First, it highlights the importance of assessing perceived ILS as an outcome of interventions to promote young people’s readiness to leave care. Second, our research confirms the essential role of out-of-home care in providing young people in care with opportunities to develop independence and life skills not only within the walls of the orphanage, but also through real-world activities, e.g. early community work experience. Finally, participation in decision-making processes related to young people’s leaving care should be carefully promoted, given its central role in developing a sense of autonomy and autonomy for care leavers.

For more information and a full list of links, see our open access publication Child and Family Social Work:

García-Alba, L.; Gullo, F. and Del Valle, JF (2022). Preparation of young people for independent living in children’s care homes: a comparative study. Child and family social work, 1-13.

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1 Comment

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