Academic journal article Social Work

Leaving Care: Retrospective Reports by Alumni of Israeli Group Homes

Academic journal article Social Work

Leaving Care: Retrospective Reports by Alumni of Israeli Group Homes

Article excerpt

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is marked by several changes and rituals, including the process of leaving the household of one's nuclear family (Hussong & Chassin, 2002). Leaving home symbolizes the completion of the process of separation from parents, an important step toward achieving autonomy and independence as a young, well-adjusted adult (Mayseless & Hai, 1998; Moore, 1987). Leaving home in Western society is characterized by young adults deciding to leave their parents' household (Cooney & Mortimer, 1999; Hussong & Chassin); reaching a certain age, usually 18 years or older (Cooney & Mortimer; Molgat, 2002); and consulting and negotiating with their parents on the timing and mode of leaving. This is sometimes accompanied by parent-child conflicts over the transition (Hussong & Chassin).

Leaving home is usually a positive experience (Flanagan, Schulenberg, & Fuligni, 1993; O'Connor, Allen, Bell, & Hauser, 1996), and parent-child relationships frequently improve after the transition, with warmer expressions of mutual affection and better communication (Anderson, 1990; Mayseless & Hai, 1998; Sullivan & Sullivan, 1980; Thornton, Orbuch, & Axinn, 1995). In contrast, for young alumni of group homes, leaving out-of-home care may be a stressful and negative experience. This may be because many alumni leave care at age 18 (the age of legal adulthood) and frequently even earlier, and not through their own wishes or plans (Courtney, Piliavin, Grogan-Kaylor, & Nesmith, 2001; Rutter, 2000). An early transition to independent living is associated with poorer adjustment in young adulthood (Hussong & Chassin, 2002; O'Connor et al.; White, 1994). Unlike leaving home, leaving care means separation from the foster or group-home parents with few, if any, opportunities for maintaining ongoing interaction with them, let alone maintaining warmth and affection. This separation may be especially traumatic because group-home parents may have served as substitute attachment figures partially compensating for the loss of secure attachment with biological parents (Haight, Doner Kagle, & Black, 2003; Hess, 1982; Roy, Rutter, & Pickles, 2000). Attachment theory suggests that a positive substitute parental figure, such as a loving, warm, and supportive foster or group-home parent, can compensate for earlier disadvantaged attachment relationships. Hence, positive relationships with group-home parents while in care are expected to be associated with better alumni's adjustment in adulthood (Hess; Howes, 1999; Iwaniec & Sneddon, 2001) and may be accompanied by pain and sorrow on separation from their substitute parental figures (Hess; Howe, 1995). Furthermore, young adults who leave their parents' home usually receive social support from their friends (Jerome, 2003), whereas young adults who have lived most of their lives in out-of-home care are less likely to receive social support from friends and family, especially during their transition to the community (Biehal, Clayden, Stein, & Wade, 1994; Courtney et al.; Minty, 1999). They are also less likely to have the skills or internal resources to seek support (Iglehart, 1995; Nollan et al., 2000).

The present study presents and analyzes alumni's retrospective views of how they experienced the transition from Israeli group-home care. In Israel, about 9,000 children live in out-of-home care, with about 80 percent of them placed in residential care or in group homes (National Council for the Child, 2001). Only a few empirical studies have followed young adults' transition to independent living after they leave care (see Courtney et al., 2001; Pecora et al., 2003; Weiner & Kupermintz, 2001). Most of these studies focused on young adults' functioning, their readiness for independent living, and the life skills they acquired. Earlier studies did not examine how alumni felt during and after transition to independent living (Iglehart, 1994, 1995; Nollan et al. …

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