Care leavers' priorities and the corporate parent role: A self-determination theory perspective

Rebekah Hyde & Cathy Atkinson - Educational and Child Psychology

Aim: Corporate parenting in the UK may not be well-operationalised, with a potential role for educational psychologists (EPs) in promoting effective practice. This paper explores care leavers’ needs and priorities from the perspective of self-determination theory (SDT), which relates the individual’s motivation to the human need for competence, relatedness and autonomy.

Method: Ten young people aged 16–19 from two UK local authorities were interviewed about their priorities in preparing for adulthood. Interview findings were then deductively analysed using a SDT framework.

Findings: Interviews highlighted the young people’s preference for graduated transition to adulthood. Analysis showed relatedness to be the most salient SDT domain, foregrounding the importance of consistent, authentic and personalised relationships. Consistent relationships motivated care leavers to engage with support and to pursue post-16 goals with enhanced self-determination. Conversely, gaps in young people’s support networks undermined service engagement, potentially impeding a supported and successful transition to adulthood.

Limitations: The study was small-scale and the age range, demographics and quality of leaving care support may not have been representative of a wider population.

Conclusions: SDT is potentially useful for highlighting care leavers’ needs and priorities when preparing for adulthood, with clear implications for corporate parenting, particularly within the relatedness domain. A possible role for EPs is proposed, which could strengthen service delivery through both systemic and individual work.