Voicing young and older adult care-leavers in Belgium: How the experience of being in care shapes narratives of the self

An Nuytiens, Ilse Luyten, Jenneke Christiaens, Els Dumortier


In this contribution results of a qualitative study on adult care leavers in Flanders (Belgium) are discussed. Life history interviews with 38 adult care leavers (21-66 years) were conducted to shed light on how a history of being in residential/foster care may impact on further lives. In this article focus is on the identity (and identity changes) of care leavers to explore the process of psychological transition to adulthood.

The process of psychological transition is characterised by identity changes; care leavers move away from a care-identity to another, more conventional identity. The narratives clearly evidence the existence of a care-identity, characterised by a perception of a decrease/loss of selfhood. For most care leavers, identification with the group of institutionalised youth and stigmatization leaves a negative imprint on their self-image. However, as care leavers age, new and more conventional identities are developed, making the negative imprint of the care-identity diminish over time. While the care-identity probably will not completely disappear it will be pushed more to the background as it may co-exist with new and conventional identities.

In order to initiate/complete the psychological transition to adulthood, the processing of traumatic events is crucial. Also, parenthood and a job in the social care sector are important turning points instigating psychological transition. Remarkably, the process of psychological transition is often prompted later in adulthood, underscoring the importance of a longitudinal perspective both in research and policy (aftercare).


care-identity; psychological transitions; adult care leavers; Belgium; identity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14301/llcs.v9i1.456

Copyright (c) 2018 An Nuytiens, Ilse Luyten, Jenneke Christiaens, Els Dumortier

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