A life course approach to studying the experiences of foster care alumni: A case study exploring the educational pathways of care-experienced adults

Eavan Brady, PhD student, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland 

Research related to care (e.g. leaving care, education of children in care) has been criticised for paying insufficient attention to theory (Berridge, 2007; 2012; Brodie, 2009; Stein, 2006). This presentation seeks to outline why the life course approach is an effective theoretical framework for exploring the experiences and challenges faced by individuals who have spent time in foster care (‘foster care alumni’). An example of how this method is currently being applied to a study of the educational pathways of care-experienced adults will also be outlined.  The flexibility of the life course approach and its capacity to consider and integrate numerous types of individual, structural, and cultural variation over time highlights its value to studies examining the experiences of foster care alumni. Furthermore, the life course approach has the potential to capture experiences of continuity and discontinuity faced by foster care alumni over time while also identifying the long-term role that these experiences may play in shaping and influencing their various life pathways.    The educational pathways of care-experienced adults provide a good test case for examining how the life course approach may enrich our understanding of the experiences of foster care alumni. Many factors are considered important when it comes to educational progress e.g. school/family relationships, continuity in school experience, individual factors such as motivation. The life course approach provides a framework for considering the complex range of factors that shape and influence educational pathways while facilitating the identification of specific disruptors/supporters of the educational experiences of foster care alumni.

Key-words: life course approach, foster care alumni, education

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