Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reflective Analysis of a Mixed-Methods Approach to Study the Experiences of Young People Leaving Care in Romania

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Reflective Analysis of a Mixed-Methods Approach to Study the Experiences of Young People Leaving Care in Romania

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper aims to discuss the choice and challenges of a mixed-methods research design implied within a doctoral thesis on the experiences of young people leaving residential care in Romania, as a retrospective analysis leading to messages for further research in the field. Two exemplifications of research findings are provided: one where quantitative and qualitative data have complemented each other and one of contrasting results. These are offered to illustrate how integration of methods enhanced our understanding of care leaver's experiences. The paper concludes with reflections on the strengths and limitations of the chosen research design with particular emphasis on the relevance of this method to the context of the predominantly quantitative research tradition in social sciences and psychological studies in Romania.

KEYWORDS: mixed-methods, research design, leaving care.

THE ROMANIAN LEAVING CARE CONTEXT AND RESEARCH

Leaving care policy and practice evolved along with Romania's major political and welfare changes and reforms, which could be described mainly as three distinctive periods.

Firstly, the communist regime until 1989, when leaving care was a welldefined and straightforward process to another all-providing system (free education, usually in vocational schools to guarantee employment in the industrial area, accommodation in factory-owned blocks and food in canteens), beneficial for their survival, despite being generally discriminated against (Alexiu, 2000). The situation changed dramatically after 1989 when care leavers were simply left to be 'governed by the rule of chance' with absolutely no support, after a life in care which had offered them few opportunities to develop practical and independent life skills (Zamfir & Zamfir, 1997).

Secondly, during a period of legislative and structural changes (1990 - 1997/1999), when young people's transitions were disrupted and neglected, support for care leavers was almost non-existent. Services were only provided by some voluntary, private initiatives and NGOs. Romanian social policy focused after the fall of the communist regime mainly on the youngest children in institutions in the first phase to improve the very poor physical conditions, while leaving care was seen as the end of the state's responsibility (FCR, 1998). Considered as adults able to look after themselves, care leavers were largely ignored by the first childcare reform in 1997 which failed to acknowledge their 'social handicap' (FCR, 1998).

Thirdly, a period of increasing recognition of care leavers' needs and a clear political will to respond to them started in the early 2000s. Young people's social exclusion is first acknowledged in 20021. As a response to the European Union pressure to deal with the problems within the child care system, a second major administrative and legal reform took place in 2004 (enacted January 2005), ensuring that leaving care receives a statutory mandate too. The General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection2 have extended responsibilities as regards young people who can stay in care up to two years over the period they are entitled to, admitting that the state's responsibility does not end at discharge. The high need for developing the independent living skills of young people within the child care system is also recognized3. The governments program of the 2006 - 2008 reform clearly states that care leavers are one of the priority groups4. Although the current legislation for young people leaving care is a progressive one, many of the provisions are not implemented yet (Anghel & Dima, 2008).

A body of research and literature on leaving care is emerging, mirroring the slow developments in the legal and practice area. Except for the two large-scale national cohort studies on young people at the edge of leaving care (FCR, 1998; Muga, Racoceanu, Alexandrescu, & Polch, 2005), most research is small-scale and of a qualitative nature or mixed designs (Oxford Research International, 1999; Buttu, Alexandrescu, & Mihaita, 2001; Balica, 2002; Marcovici & Dalu, 2002; Marginean, Popescu, Arpinte, & Neagu, 2004; ANSIT 2003, 2006; Anghel & Beckett, 2007; Baban, Marcu, & Craciun, 2008), focused on some early destinations, leaving care preparation, young people's social-professional integration. …

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