Deconstructing doing well; what can we learn from care experienced young people in England, Denmark and Norway?

Elisiv Bakketeig, Janet Boddy, Tonje Gundersen, Jeanette Østergaard, Fidelma Hanrahan - Children and Youth Services Review


This paper addresses the conceptualization of ‘outcomes’ for care experienced people through an in-depth longitudinal study of 75 young adults in Denmark, England and Norway. ‘Outcome’ studies have played a crucial role in raising awareness of the risk of disadvantage that care experienced people face, across a variety of domains including education and employment. These studies may have an unintended consequence, however, if care experienced people are predominantly viewed, and studied, through a problem-focused lens. The danger is that policy and research neglects other – perhaps less readily measurable – aspects of experience, including subjective understandings – what matters to care experienced people themselves. Our analyses are based on an in-depth qualitative longitudinal study, which explored meanings of ‘doing well’ over time among care experienced people (aged 16-32), all of whom were ‘successful’ in relation to traditional indicators of participation in education and/or employment (including voluntary work). Across countries, their accounts revealed the importance of attending to subjective and dynamic understandings of ‘doing well’, and the significance of ordinary, mundane and ‘do-able’ lives. Participants’ narratives highlight aspects of doing well that raise challenging questions about how traditional outcome indicators – and corresponding policy priorities – might better capture what young people themselves see as important. A narrow interpretation of outcomes may lead to misrecognition of what it means to do well, and so to a stigmatizing ‘way of seeing’ care experienced lives. A broader conceptualization of outcomes is necessary to recognize – and so to develop policy and services to support – the complex, dynamic relationality of doing well.