Conference Papers

Young people leaving care: plans, challenges and discourses

The Queen’s Speech on 18th May included reference to the need to tackle the difficulties faced by care-leavers. This comes within a context of national concern about the difference in life chances between care-leavers and young people in general (DfE, 2015). These problems persist, in spite of numerous initiatives and interventions. My research aimed to examine explanations and justifications made by the adult participants about plans for their care-leavers. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews from an opportunistic sample of four young people and the key adults who worked with them. Critical discourse analysis, following Fairclough’s three-layered model (2003), was used to interrogate the data. Findings indicated that the long-standing problem of young people having to leave care too early still persists. It also appears that theories drawn from the psychology of child development influenced the professionals’ constructions of the young people, thereby limiting the responses which adults can offer. It is proposed that neoliberal discourses of individual responsibility and continuous self-improvement support systems which encourage young people to leave care before they are ready. Two concepts of chop (for example, end of school phase) and churn (for example, staff turnover) are used to examine how the frequent disruptions in the life of a looked-after child are exacerbated by points of rupture which are caused by the structures of children’s services. This study adds to calls for increased stability for young people, particularly in residential care, and questions current approaches to multi- agency working and ‘giving young people a voice’. Recommendations include the provision of independent visitors for foster carers, and that planning for the future should begin at a much earlier stage .
DfE (2015) Outcomes for children looked after by local authorities. [online]. [Accessed 1 November 2015]. Available at <>.
Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing discourse: textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.

Key words: care-leavers, critical discourse analysis, neoliberalism

Lamond, C. (2016) 'Young people leaving care: plans, challenges and discourses', paper presented to The 12th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 30 June-01 July, viewed 13 August 2020, <>