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Career Development Success: Themes Among the Experiences of Young People Formerly in Care

By Ashlee Kitchenham

Preface

Career development is often an exploratory and leisurely process for many young people transitioning into adulthood from industrialized countries in the 21st century (Arnett, 2000). This population is typically supported emotionally and practically by their family of origin and as a result they are able to allocate more time and resources to pursue higher levels of education and gradually navigate employment opportunities. However, young people involved in formal care systems often have a substantially different experience of career development.

Specifically, this population often transitions into adulthood at an expedited pace, without the same resources or supports as their non-care peers (Courtney & Heuring, 2005). Many of these young people depend on the care system for support, typically having no family they can rely on. However, once they reach the age of majority they are emancipated from care and the little support they had been able to receive is cut off. These young people then abruptly transition into adulthood, expected to somehow make it on their own (Courtney & Heuring, 2005).

Not surprisingly, research widely demonstrates this population’s career development is greatly compromised. Many young people from care experience poor academic achievement, are subject to underemployment or unemployment, and earn an income below the federal poverty level (Barth, 1990; Courtney et al., 2011; Dixon, 2007; Kufeldt, 2003; Pecora et al., 2006). However, though the extraordinary challenges and pervasive negative outcomes often experienced by this population in career development are well documented, less attention has been given to exploring the experiences that promote positive career development outcomes among this population. Though not frequently noted, a subsection of this population does experience career development success. These young people are able to pursue postsecondary education, secure meaningful employment, and earn an adequate income.

A thematic review of the limited body of research addressing positive career development experiences among young people formerly in care yielded several important themes related to these young peoples’ care experiences. The analysis demonstrated the experience of support, age at leaving care, care stability history, and work experience all greatly contributed to these young peoples’ career development success. The experience of support was the most prevalent theme among young people formerly in care who had experienced positive career development outcomes. Particularly, receiving emotional and practical support was related to better academic and career experiences (Arnau-Sabatés & Gilligan, 2015; Frimpong-Manso, 2017; Merdinger, Hines, Osterling, & Wyatt, 2005; Rios & Rocco, 2014; Rutman & Hubberstey, 2016; Wade & Dixon, 2006). Further, those who left care at a later age, as well as those who experienced a lower frequency of care placement or school moves, were more likely to experience positive educational and occupational outcomes (Courtney & Hook, 2016; Merdinger et al., 2005; Pecora et al., 2006; Rios & Rocco, 2014; Stewart, Kum, Barth, & Duncan 2013; Wade & Dixon, 2006). Lastly, work experience prior to 18 years of age was associated with better career outcomes (Arnau-Sabatés & Gilligan, 2015; Courtney & Hook, 2016; Stewart et al., 2013).

Overall, the thematic review revealed that although the majority of the literature is saturated with discussions of adversity, there are several identifiable factors that contribute to more positive career development outcomes for young people who were formerly in care. These results have the potential to inform policies related to formal care system experiences and yield several practical recommendations for professionals who work with these young people to better set this population up for career development success.

Ashlee Kitchenham, BA, is currently completing her Masters of Education degree with a specialization in Counselling Psychology at the University of New Brunswick. Her research interests include the career development experiences of vulnerable youth and young adults. She has previous experience working as a residential youth and family counsellor among this population.

References

Arnau-Sabatés, L., & Gilligan, R. (2015). What helps young care leavers to enter the world of work? Possible lessons learned from an exploratory study in Ireland and Catalonia. Children and Youth Services Review53, 185-191. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.03.027

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the early twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469-480.

Barth, R. P. (1990). On their own: The experiences of youth after foster care. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 7, 419-440. doi:10.1007/BF00756380
Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

Courtney, M. E., & Heuring, D. H. (2005). The transition to adulthood for youth “aging out” of the foster care system. In D. W. Osgood, E. M. Foster, M. Flanagan, & G. R. Ruth (Eds.), On your own without a net (pp. 27-67). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Courtney, M. E., & Hook, J. L. (2016). The potential educational benefits of extending foster care to young adults: Findings from a natural experiment. Children and Youth Services Review, 72, 124-132. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.09.030

Dixon, J. (2007). Obstacles to participation in education, employment and training for young people leaving care. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 13(2), 18-34. doi:10.1921/19648

Frimpong‐Manso, K. (2017). The social support networks of care leavers from a children’s village in Ghana: Formal and informal supports. Child & Family Social Work22, 195-202. doi:10.1111/cfs.12218

Kufeldt, K. (2003). Graduates of guardianship care: Outcomes in early adulthood. In K. Kufeldt, & B. McKenzie (Eds.), Child welfare: Connecting research, policy, and practice (pp. 203-216). Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier Press.

Merdinger, J. M., Hines, A. M., Osterling, K. L., & Wyatt, P. (2005). Pathways to college for former foster youth: Understanding factors that contribute to educational success. Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program84, 867-896.

Pecora, P. J., Kessler, R. C., O’Brien, K., White, C. R., Williams, J., Hiripi, E., . . . Herrick, M. A. (2006). Educational and employment outcomes of adults formerly placed in foster care: Results from the northwest foster care alumni study. Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 1459-1481. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.04.003

Rios, S. J., & Rocco, T. S. (2014). From foster care to college: Barriers and supports on the road to postsecondary education. Emerging Adulthood2, 227-237. doi:10.1177/2167696814526715

Rutman, D., & Hubberstey, C. (2016). Is anybody there? Informal supports accessed and sought by youth from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review63, 21-27. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.02.007

Stewart, C. J., Kum, H., Barth, R. P., & Duncan, D. F. (2014). Former foster youth: Employment outcomes up to age 30. Children and Youth Services Review36, 220-229. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.11.024

Wade, J., & Dixon, J. (2006). Making a home, finding a job: Investigating early housing and employment outcomes for young people leaving care. Child & Family Social Work11, 199-208. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2006.00428.x

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