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‘Reciprocal Encounters’ - Young Adults Leaving Care

The experience of growing up in care and then leaving to go on to adult life is something only those who have lived through it can really understand. Recognising this, one EU-supported project gave young people the tools they needed to participate in peer research.

The ReProCounters project, supported through a Marie Curie fellowship, intended to demonstrate how well-being is formulated through young adults’ subjective experiences after leaving care – a critical period of their lives.

The project aimed to produce client-based social work guidelines: to find the best ways to support the well-being of young adults leaving care and the process of the deinstitutionalisation or leaving care. They concentrated on young adults’ experiences of their transition from care to independent living both in England and Finland. These young adults have experiences of living in foster families or in different children’s homes or institutions.

“We used a participatory research methodology conducting research with young adults, not just on them, and tried to reach user-driven results with help of peer research,” explains principal investigator and Marie Curie Fellow, Professor Maritta Törrönen.

For the element of peer research, Prof. Törrönen and her team trained a number of young adults with experiences of leaving care, in research techniques. They then carried out the interviews with their peers. “We were keen for them to participate as researchers and not just interviewees as their insight was sure to lead to valuable interaction.”

The 16 young peer researchers interviewed their peers who had experience in leaving care. Through the process the project learned how young adults would like to be supported on their own terms. “Young adults joined the interview because they wanted to make care and leaving care better for other young people. By doing so they saw how their experience is valuable, and that what they have to share can influence the situation of other young people in the same situation.”

As one young researcher says, “It has meant that I have had many new and exciting things to do and learn about. If there was a change in making leaving care easier, I knew I wanted to be part of this, being a care-leaver myself.” All the peer researchers received a certificate from the university, stating they have taken part in the EU funded project.

Anglia Ruskin University project host and coordinator Prof. Carol Munn Giddings adds that the skills they learned are also needed in working life or for future study. This is something picked up on by another young interviewer who says, “Whilst doing the Finnish project, I learnt social skills, being punctual, interview skills and techniques, how to do fundraising and the ability to adapt to other people’s needs.”

While peer researching in this domain is not new, ReProCounters broke new ground by investigating the situation and using the participatory action research in two different welfare states, Finland and the UK. The answers were surprisingly similar, for example, in both countries subjects long for stability in their relationships. “The central message was the importance they attributed to the meaning and continuity of social connections which support what we define as their ‘emotional participation’. Emotional participation has, at its heart, the continuity of social relationships and emotional connectedness,” says Prof. Törrönen.

ReProCounters has already presented the study at several conferences in England and Finland. Based on these presentations the team have already published a report and several articles and have two further articles in progress. The Finnish researcher has been asked to join the advisory board of an association with young adults who have left care and the representatives of different stakeholders where she can share her experiences. The association will also impact on Finnish policy-making.

Reference source: ‘Reciprocal Encounters’ - Young Adults Leaving Care

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