'Breakdown' in out-of-home care for young people: incident or process?
Children and family SFI - The Danish National Centre for Social Research Copenhagen, Denmark
A number of (mostly quantitative) studies have shown that out-of-home placements for young people are surprisingly difficult to carry into effect. The literature often proves that disruption is not the exception to the rule when young people are placed in foster or residential care. On the contrary, up to 50 percent of placements are terminated unplanned, either because the young person leaves the place, or because the foster or residential home is no longer willing to look after the young person.
This paper investigates the dilemma of breakdown in teenage care, but from a different angle than most of the existing studies. Thus, "breakdown" is usually considered as an important incident that can be linked causally with a variety of factors, e.g. the "nature" or the background of the young person. In other words, breakdown is treated as a concept that is significant in its own right. Instead, this paper views breakdown in care as part of an intricate process of identity formation among troubled youth. Various elements play crucial roles in such processes, breakdown not necessarily being the most important.
The paper suggests that relations may be a fruitful point of departure, explaining the chain of events for young people in care. A relational approach - stressing the importance of networks in terms of friends, relatives, adult "role models", etc. - seems more suitable to account for the particularly difficult processes that troubled young people undergo in their search for meaningful social identities.
The discussion of this paper is based on a recent qualitative study of Danish teenagers in out-of-home care. The study involved interviews with 12 young people in care, their case workers, their caretakers, and in some cases their parents.