Accelerated transitions from childhood to adulthood – the experiences of young people ageing out of state care

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Jo Dixon (University of York, UK)

In many western countries, timeframes for childhood and dependency have extended during the past three decades. In the UK, the average age for young people leaving home to set up on their own is currently 26yrs, with 10% still living with their parents at 40yrs. Career trajectories have also lengthened, with a range of options offering stepping stones to employment, including longer periods in compulsory and further education, higher education and apprenticeships and training (e.g. between 1998-2018, the average age people left full-time education increased from 17.8 years to 19.3 years). The financial costs associated with these options and lower rates of pay for young people engaged in paid work, coupled with the soaring costs of rental accommodation and house prices; go some way to explaining why so many young adults remain in the family home until their late 20s, effectively delaying autonomous adulthood. Even young people who leave home to attend university often return to parents after graduating, earning the term boomerang generation.

In stark contrast to this ‘norm’ of delayed transitions to autonomous adulthood, young people who have experienced foster care or residential care tend to experience an ‘accelerated and compressed’ transition to adulthood (Stein, 2008). Many young people aging out of care (care leavers) move onto independent adulthood aged 18 and despite recent policy attempts designed to delay the transition (e.g. Staying Put), many live in their own tenancies by 21yrs. Some, however, lack the life skills to maintain their premature independent living status, experiencing homelessness, unemployment, loneliness and poor mental health. This paper draws on our research to show that care leavers begin the transition to adulthood much sooner and take on the milestones and challenges of autonomous adulthood in a much shorter space of time than other young people. It will discuss how their childhood is cut short as they are propelled towards transitioning out of care and into autonomous adulthood, often poorly prepared, and the impact on longer-term life choices and outcomes. It includes the voices of young people, to demonstrate their experiences and views on moving to independent adulthood at an early age.
Period12 May 2021
Event titleIX Conference on Childhood Studies: Childhood and Time
Event typeConference
LocationTampere, FinlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Care leavers
  • Transitions to adulthood