Young People Leaving Care: Participatory Research to Improve Child Welfare Practices and the Rights of Children and Young People

This paper discusses participatory research with young people who are leaving public care in Finland to begin independent lives. The aim of the research, organised by SOS Children’s Villages International, was to bring about change in alternative care arrangements, particularly those involving young people’s transition to independence. The project used a participatory research design based on employing care-leaving peers as co-researchers. This paper adheres to the methodological principles of empowerment in analysing the personal experiences of young people leaving alternative care with the goal of informing good practice.

The findings suggest that the peer research method can be an effective means of empowering young people to develop research skills and to be involved in knowledge production, as well as serving as a means of promoting improved services for “care-leavers”, those young people who are leaving either foster care or institutional care. The participatory and peer research method challenges the traditional understandings of expertise and knowledge production. Although the hierarchy between adult researchers and young people as co-researchers is still evident, the method provides possibilities for better understanding the social- and healthservice systems and their challenges and pitfalls from a user’s perspective.