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Young people provide new picture of out-of-home care


For the first time, researchers have followed young people for several years when they make the transition from out-of-home care into adulthood. Many young people in fact view their time in care as a turning point, as they have been given help and role models. “Over time, they change their view of the place and see it as a good place with positive role models and a chance for a fresh start,” says Mattias Bengtsson, researcher in social work at University of Gävle.

Ung man går ombord på tåg

Foto: Emma Eriksson TT/Scandinav

Every year, around 27,000 young people are placed in care in Sweden. This care includes both family homes and so called HVB homes, that is homes for care and residence. Mattias Bengtsson has followed some 20 of these young people, aged between 17 and 20, for more than 2.5 years, from the time they were placed in care until they were discharged.

Many studies highlight the great vulnerability of these young adults in very many areas of life. However, no previous research has followed them all the way and the results of Bengtsson’s study stand out.

Mattias Bengtsson

Mattias Bengtsson


“A picture emerges of young people as strong agents in their own lives. Half of the participants were employed or studied at a secondary school and even at higher education level. So, there are good stories and stories of possibilities, too,” Mattias Bengtsson says.

Must be allowed to be key players in their own lives

The study shows that a precondition is that there are positive adult role models with whom young people can connect. These adults need to really listen to them and make them feel involved.

“If someone else is making all the decision in your own life, you will give up in the end. Being allowed to be a key player in your own life makes you grow and helps you in becoming an adult.”

The study made clear that young people who have been encouraged to see themselves as someone with agency when making plans for their own future seem to do quite well.

If that was the case, they were able to navigate and build good relations with the social services or the employment services, but also to navigate away from harmful relationships. Moreover, these young people proved that they could maintain the professional relationships with the foster parent or the HVB home by transforming them into family-like relationships when the care was over.

Sweden at the bottom of the class

Sweden does not have a good support structure for young people who leave out-of-home care. Our Nordic neighbours have support programmes that last until young people turn 22 or 23, and England and Spain have special support teams that work with this group before, but also after, the period of care.

“In Sweden, you are discharged when you turn 18 and there is virtually no such support. There is a lot of anxiety when they are about to leave the home: “Will the support just disappear now, will I become homeless?’”

“Wish they were asked if they need support”

Mattias Bengtsson wishes that all these young people were asked if they need support and suggest that the skilled youth workers in our municipalities were given the opportunity to continue to work with this group.

“It is tough for all young people today, but this particular group can’t rely on the parental generation to be supportive. Many of them were placed in care exactly because things didn't work out at home,” Mattias Bengtsson says.

Text: Douglas Öhrbom

Scientific article


Mattias Bengtsson, researcher in social work at University of Gävle
Phone: 070-696 14 47
E-mail: Mattias.Bengtsson@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2022-03-29
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)