A psycho-social study of the experiences of young people leaving care in Romania : lessons for service development

  • Gabriela Dima

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The present study explores the experiences of young people leaving public care in Romania, a field which is in its early developmental stage in literature, research and practice. A progressive legislative framework recently enacted (since January 2005) which acknowledges the need to support care leavers’ transition from care to independent living, created the momentum for the present research. A psycho-social approach to the subject has been chosen to capture the complexity of the leaving care process and to reflect the researcher’s professional interests.
    The objectives of the study are:
    ■ To explore young people’s experiences and how they make sense of leaving care and after care;
    ■ To identify care leavers’ needs for support in transition from care to independent living and adulthood;
    ■ To draw lessons for leaving care practice and policy from the experiences of both young people, as service users, and professionals as service providers.

    The design of the research is mixed - methods (qualitative with a complementary quantitative dimension) within a participatory action research framework, considered to be suitable for its open and responsive way to carry out the study. Research data was collected by use of semi-structured interviews and psychological instruments from young people (34) who had an experience of two to four years of living independently, focus groups with professionals (32), and a participatory working group including both care leavers (6) and professionals (6). The main method used for the qualitative analysis was the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, chosen for its potential to give voice to young people’s lived experiences and bring an in-depth understanding of leaving care.
    The present study draws mainly on attachment theory and the focal model. Particular emphasis has been placed on the concept of identity as an over-arching concept which affects both the psychological and social transition from care to independent living.
    Findings of the study illustrate young people’s generally poor outcomes. These are similar to some extent to the international context, pointing to some ‘universal’ characteristics and needs of care leavers across cultures. They also show specific issues characteristic to the Romanian context. The study shows the importance of an in-depth understanding of both psychological and social dimensions of leaving care, the experiences, as well as coping characteristics. Their interplay is highlighted in two of the main findings:
    ■ Social and psychological transitions from care to independent living and adulthood have different rhythms. In light of Bridges’ (2002) phases of transition adapted to leaving care, socially care leavers leap directly into the third phase - the ‘beginning’ of a completely new stage in their lives, while psychologically they still need time to deal with the ending, separation and ‘in-between’ phase, which cannot be accomplished instantly.
    ■ After leaving care many of the young people continue to define themselves as being ‘care persons' (‘’care identity’) - abandoned, cared for by the state, lacking consistent family support, feeling stigmatised and rejected by society. This is reflected in their coping with the difficulties of transition from care to independent living (e.g a passive, demanding attitude, state-dependency, conflicting relationships, negative future projection).

    The recommendations are that services should pay attention to the complex interaction between practical, social and psychological dimensions of leaving care. While young people’s needs for support in transition vary considerably, in addressing their needs, the attitude of delivery is equally, if not more important, than the type of service offered. Participatory work is recommended, challenging traditional social work practices in Romania. While there is political will to address care leavers’ needs, the way this is translated into practice is highly important.
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorCaroline Skehill (Supervisor) & John Pinkerton (Supervisor)

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