The leaving care process is awkward to write about; it’s difficult to talk about a young person leaving care, when some young people reflect that “we don’t leave care, care leaves us”. It’s difficult to write about moving into independence as this insinuates a reliance on self-sufficiency, on facing and going at the world alone. When really, who is truly independent? Instead, let our trajectory of focus change from being a move ‘out of care’ to a move to interdependence.

Currently, transitions are predominantly guided by the Pathway Planning process, where the priorities lie in the practical elements; finances, employment or education and independent living skills. Social and emotional preparations are outlined as part of the planning process, but these can end up taking a back seat, as the practical elements are linked to physical safety, which are obviously critical at this time. 

When we have this focal point on preparations for independence, the social and emotional factors are impacted, with less resources and time being spent in these areas. Yet, the reality is that social and emotional skills and relationships and connection are vital contributors to good outcomes and should therefore be intertwined in our whole approach to care. 

Social and emotional development is linked to the concept of interdependence, which posits that transitions are experienced as an ongoing process, with personalisation, flexibility and maintained support with adults who genuinely care (Hyde, 2018). Interdependence is about knowing that we are not alone in this world, about understanding that we need relationships and connections that bolster and support us on an ongoing basis; that we have someone to turn to when we want or need. 

From sharing your good news with a friend, dropping off a load of washing at your parents, to having someone to call at the end of the night and share your feelings with, good or bad.

None of us are truly independent, we all rely on relationships; connection matters and is key to  leading a happy, sustainable life, with good outcomes. This demonstrates the shift required in terms of the preparations on this transition’s journey. Independence has a focus on being uninfluenced by others, on relying on one’s self, whereas interdependence has a focus on reciprocal, harmonious relationships. 

The concept of interdependence throughout the transition period is something that is reflected throughout the general population. Since the 1980’s there has been an emergence of the ‘boomerang’ generation, a media coined term that captures a state of fluctuating between dependence and independence; slower, more gradual transitions into adulthood (Goldfarb, 2014, as cited in Hyde, 2018). Young people moving between their childhood home, or to their original care givers and then back to a place of their own. 

Something that is considered a norm throughout society, is simply not possible for care experienced young people. Young people on their transition journey are supported to do so at a much younger age than their peers, referred to as ‘instant adulting’, expected to get it right the first time; no room to fall or falter. 

Beyond this, there’s evidently a disconnectedness that care experienced young people can feel throughout their time in care. Disconnected from family members, from decisions that affect them, from peers and the wider care experienced community. This will naturally impact the development of interpersonal skills throughout their time in care, which leads to the conclusion that this really should be at the forefront of the Pathway Planning process. 

Equally, in terms of decision-making capacity; this is restricted throughout time in care. Yes, young people can be consulted on the decisions that affect them, but ultimately, the life-changing decisions are made by ‘the adults’. From where they live, to what school they go to, even who they are friends with: the control young people have is limited. 

That is until it’s time to move out. Suddenly, young people have life thrusted upon them and they are expected to have all the answers. The reality is young people can be prepared for independence as best as they can and learning cooking skills, managing a budget and how to pay your rent are of course all necessary, but they do not amount to a feeling of being wanted, a feeling of being loved, understood or supported. 

Trauma effects and responses do not stop at the age of 18, 21, or 25, they manifest at different times and in different ways, for different people. We need to consider this throughout the Pathway Planning process, furthermore leading to the necessity of interdependence. We know that young people can ‘overcome’ adversity and that relationships are an antidote that supports healing. 

Ultimately, it’s about working holistically with our young people, asking how best can we support them to go on and thrive. The answer is in person-centred care, in interpersonal skill development and building relationships that matter. 

It is with this in mind, that I challenge us all to consider how we value and work with interpersonal relationships in the transitions planning process for our young people. Let’s ask ourselves how we can adapt our practice from a transition ‘out of care’, to a transition into the community, where young people feel connected and have the resources to ask for support.

About the author

Mary-anne Hodd is a care-experienced consultant and trainer working to support organisations and authorities in connecting the child’s voice to the heart of services. 

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