Transitional patterns when leaving care – care leavers' agency in a longitudinal perspective

Mattias Bengtsson, Yvonne Sjöblom, Peter Öberg - Children and Youth Services Review


Based on three waves of semi-structured interviews, this longitudinal qualitative study aims to understand the transition from out-of-home care (OHC; foster care, residential care) to independent adulthood, for a group of Swedish care leavers aged 16 to 20 years (n = 14). What are the main patterns in their transition process? How is agency reflected in these processes? The first interview (T1) was conducted when they were all still in OHC but on the verge of leaving, the second (T2) when the majority had left care and the third (T3) when they had been out for some time. Average time from T1 to T3 was 21 months, ranging from 17 to 28 months. By directed content analysis and an abductive approach, three transitional patterns were identified: From care to societal insidersFrom care to societal outsiders and From care to societal in-betweeners. These patterns were connected to different dimensions of agency. Agency with long-term goals was shown to be connected to a stable transition from care, facilitating the emerging identification as independent “insiders” of society. Agency oriented towards the short term instead seemed to be connected to unstable transitions with a growing perception of being left as “outsiders” of society. Shuttling between those agentic positions, trying to apply long-term agency but experiencing the need for instant and pragmatic decisions, implied a halted transition “in-between” OHC and independent adulthood.