More Than Meets the Eye: How Black and Minority Ethnic Care-Leavers Construct and Make Sense of Their Identity

Isabelle Lensvelt, Alexander Hassett, and Alicia Colbridge - Adolescents

Abstract: Looked-after children are exposed to significant developmental trauma which may impact their identity development. Discourses of vulnerability and maladaptation often surround this group, while care-leavers often self-identify as survivors. The role of culture in identity formation is also well documented, and cultural socialisation is linked to psychological adjustment and wellbeing. Despite this, little research has explored identity development in black and minority ethnic (BAME) care-leavers. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis is used to analyse eight semi-structured interviews with BAME care-leavers about their experience of identity development. Three superordinate themes were developed: My journey—how I became me; Identity as a process—the processes that support identity development; and who am I—how I see myself now. Participants’ identity development was adaptive in the context of surviving significant disruption and trauma. Findings are discussed with reference to previous research and limitations are considered. Clinical implications include the need to address additional barriers to positive self-identity faced by BAME care leavers, the importance of acknowledging care-leaver identity as adaptive and embodying a trauma-informed approach to working with this group. Further research into how care-leavers experience their cultural identity is needed.