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Vulnerability and resilience during transition

Young people transitioning to adulthood will have had different life experiences and different experiences of care, and may have different levels of resilience.

In some cases, a young person may have experienced a more stable family life as a result of being in care. In others, they may have experienced many different types of care arrangements and instability. These factors will impact on the young person’s engagement with, and readiness for, transition to adulthood planning.

Stein (2005, 2006) describes three types of care leavers, along with their attributes, needs and potential trajectories. Stein refers to the groups as ‘moving on’, ‘survivors’ and ‘victims’, but we have re-named the groups to use less stigmatising language.

The well-supported group has:

  • had stability and continuity in their lives, including a secure attachment relationship
  • made sense of their family relationships so they could psychologically move on from them
  • achieved some success with education, training or employment 
  • had gradual preparation for the transition
  • left care later and their moving on is likely to have been planned
  • had practical preparation, with access to necessary documentation and life skills.

The vulnerable group:

  • has experienced some instability, movement and disruption in care
  • has left their care arrangement younger, often following a breakdown in household relationships
  • has had little or no education, training or employment
  • is likely to experience further movement and problems after leaving care, including periods of homelessness and low-paid casual work/unemployment
  • is likely to experience problems in their personal and professional relationships through patterns of detachment (finding it difficult to establish and maintain relationships) or dependency (exhibiting an over-reliance on relationships that undermines the relationship).

The higher needs group:

  • has had significant, damaging pre-care experiences for which care was unable to compensate  
  • has likely had many care arrangements and related disruption, especially in relation to personal relationships
  • are least likely to have an ongoing attachment relationship with a family member or carer
  • has had problems in engagement with education, training or employment and are unlikely to continue with it.

(Stein, M. 2006)


A study from the USA identified that a large group of young people in care required support transitioning to higher education and work and did not need intensive intervention, such as practical support to establish stable accommodation or assistance to establish relationships or access specialised healthcare services. 

About one-fifth needs significant intervention, perhaps for many years, with a range of psychosocial problems (Greeson, J.K.P. 2015).


Stein’s work reminds us that the experiences of young people before care and in care can play a significant role in determining how young people will cope after care, and this can assist us in our approach to engagement and planning. That said, be cautious about labelling young people and making negative predictions about their future.

Our support for young people in their transition to adulthood needs to be flexible, empathetic and considerate.

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