Accelerated Adulthood, Extended Adolescence and the Care Cliff: Supporting Care Leavers' Transition from Care to Independent Living

Angela Palmer, Michelle Norris, Joanne Kelleher

The pressures of ‘accelerated adulthood’ are a critical challenge for young people ageing out of the care system. Despite the trauma related to their placement history, young people ‘aging out’ are expected to adapt to adulthood at younger age and faster pace than their non-care peers, who enjoy an ‘extended adolescence’ a far more gradual progression into adulthood than previous generations.

This article draws on first-person narratives of care leavers in Ireland who have aged out of care and transitioned into independent living in a dedicated social housing programme to examine their strategies for coping with these competing pressures. It examines their worries about the sudden withdrawal of supports after they reach 18 years, which they characterized as a ‘care cliff’. The emotional and practical challenges they faced when transitioning to independent living at a comparatively young age are explored, and strategies for mitigating these are identified.

These include better preparing care leavers for this transition, maintaining supports for longer and withdrawing them in a more gradual way, which is tailored to meet the specific needs of each care leaver and grounded in more comprehensive after care planning than has been the norm in Ireland.