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Gillian Schofield, University of East Anglia

Identity construction and sense of family in the transition to adulthood – life narratives of young people from foster care, adoption and residential care

Identity development in adolescence requires young people to make sense of the past and present before making an identity commitment in the transition to adulthood. This presentation will explore how foster children construct a sense of identity and in particular manage their sense of birth and foster family memberships. Comparisons will be made with identity narratives in late adolescence from adoption and residential care. The presentation will draw on research studies undertaken within the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia. The foster care studies include a retrospective study of young adults formerly in foster care, age 18-30 (n=40); a longitudinal study of long-term foster care (n=52); a study (n=230) of children in long-term foster care and a study of children in care and offending (n=100). Interviews with young people in these studies were analysed thematically. The challenges and opportunities for young people in foster care include generating a coherent personal and family narrative; managing memories and the search for truth; resolving feelings about histories of abuse and neglect; finding a sense of belonging; and balancing autonomy and closeness. The findings suggest the importance of secure base relationships which can enable young people to feel supported while continuing to negotiate their identity and sense of belonging. These processes continue into early adulthood and as young people enter the world of work and parenthood. Professionals need to understand the range of experiences in transition and the need for support into early adulthood.

Keywords: narrative coherence, family identity, transitions