|dc.description.abstract||The central role of education in relation to promoting positive outcomes in adulthood is well-established in existing literature (Hammond & Feinstein, 2006; Nicaise, 2012). However, a growing body of evidence points to poor educational outcomes among young people leaving out-of-home care in the initial years after leaving care, that is, between ages 18 and 24 (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Gypen, Vanderfaeillie, De Maeyer, Belenger, & Van Holen, 2017; Jackson & Cameron, 2012). Less is known however, about the educational outcomes and pathways of ‘older’ care-experienced adults (that is, those over age 24) and the ways in which these pathways have been shaped and influenced over time. Research in this area, and that of young people leaving care in general (Stein, 2006b), has also failed to take account of wider theoretical perspectives when seeking to understand and unravel the complexities at play when it comes to the poor educational outcomes of care leavers (Berridge, 2007).
Emerging research (Duncalf, 2010; Harrison, 2017) indicates that if educational attainment and progress are measured later than is typically the case (that is extending beyond age 24) rates of pursuit of further and higher education among care-experienced adults may increase suggesting that the ‘later’ pursuit of education warrants further investigation. Furthermore, O’Higgins, Sebba, and Luke (2015: 13) have noted that the poor educational outcomes of individuals with care experience may result from “a complex combination of individual characteristics and pre-care and potentially in-care experiences, such as placement instability”. Together with the possible impact of events and experiences in the years after leaving care and beyond, these observations point to a need for further, in-depth exploration of the nuances of the educational pathways of ‘older’ care-experienced adults and those factors that have shaped and influenced them over time. This study sought to pioneer a new line of inquiry in this area exploring the educational pathways that ‘older’ care-experienced adults have taken over the course of their lives. In addition, this study drew on the life course perspective (Elder, 1994; 1998) as both guiding research paradigm and theoretical framework to explore if, and how, this perspective could provide new insights into how the educational pathways of care-experienced adults have been shaped and influenced over time. To that end, the central research questions guiding this study were: 1) What are the educational pathways that care-experienced adults have taken over the course of their lives, and expect to take in future? 2) How can the life course perspective enhance understanding of the ways that educational pathways are shaped and influenced over time?
Data were collected via 18 educational life history interviews (Moore, 2006) with care-experienced adults (aged 24-36) in Ireland. It was hoped that hearing from this ‘older’ sample of care-experienced adults would: 1) Provide an opportunity to gain insight into the educational pathways of this group; and 2) Illuminate our understanding of those factors that shaped and influenced these educational pathways over time by drawing on two key principles of the life course perspective – ‘linked lives’ and ‘human agency’. This PhD study incorporates four separate peer-reviewed journal articles and accompanying introduction, background, methodology, and discussion and conclusion chapters. The first peer-reviewed journal article (Chapter Three) outlines the relevance and value of the life course perspective to studying this issue. The second peer-reviewed journal article (Chapter Five) outlines the four educational pathway ‘types’ taken by study participants. The third and fourth peer-reviewed journal articles explore how the life course principles of ‘linked lives’ (Chapter Six) and ‘human agency’ (Chapter Seven) can illuminate our understanding of the ways the educational pathways of adults with care experience are shaped and influenced over time.
Findings of this study suggest that: 1) Diversity in the educational pathways of people with care experience should be expected; 2) Connections with key actors play a central role in influencing these educational pathways and are visible across the life course; 3) Human agency, as conceptualised from a life course perspective, is pivotal to shaping these educational pathways; this is done over time and in the context of various external and structural influences which both constrain and support individual agency; 4) The life course perspective provides unique insights on the educational pathways of adults with care experience; and 5) The life course principles of linked lives and agency are valuable conceptual tools for examining issues related to education and care and developing existing knowledge regarding how educational pathways are shaped and influenced over time.||en