Female care leavers and the construction of identity

Picture of Nicholl Hardwick

Nicholl Hardwick

Employment Consultant at Drive Forward Foundation

In 2017, Alicia K Coleridge, Alex Hassett, and Emma Sisley wrote the piece “Who am I?” How Female Care Leavers Construct and Make Sense of Their Identity. Throughout the piece they explore how identity formation may be more complex for those who have been in foster care in the face of childhood abuse, difficult relationships, unstable environments, and multiple care contexts but this does not imply there is anything pathological about it. It is imperative to look into how the care experience can have unique effects on women given the importance of this intersection on someones identity as well as the specific oppression and experiences that can come with not only being a care experienced person but also being a woman.  

Care Experience impacts women differently

Throughout the above study, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse semi structured interviews of eight female care leavers about the understanding of their identity development. Three superordinate themes emerged which encapsulated participants’ identity development. These included Construction of Identity—How I Became Me, Understanding of Identity—Who am I, and Experience of Identity—How My Identity Plays Out. 

The intersections of being both a woman and a care experienced person go underexplored and this study itself is a rarity. Sexual abuse, exploitation and the high risk of pregnancy are realities many young women face when leaving care. This, combined with the fact that they often enter the system with poorer levels of mental health compared to their peers, only adds to the psychological complexities involved with carrying and raising a child.  

In the mentioned study, it explores the complex ways in which care can affect a young woman’s identity and development into womanhood. It has been demonstrated by these psychologists that the formation of one’s identity does not end after puberty but continues to develop and change well into your twenties. Studies like this one emphasise the effects of care leavers’ experiences on their mental health and highlight the need for sustained post-care support for young women.  

Strength in the face of adversity 

Yet, it is important to remember, when we look at all of the women who come through Drive Forward’s doors and hear their stories there is a clear emphasis on strength against narratives of struggle and disadvantage.  

Many women exiting the care system, despite the barriers they face, receive exemplary grades and obtain employment in highly competitive fields such as business, law, social care, politics and finance. However, statistically this isn’t as common as it should be. Statistically, the barriers facing these young women can have serious impacts on their lives, with the complexities of being a woman intersecting with the experience of leaving care. Emotional barriers such as building confidence in order to navigate male-dominated workforces and the pressures of conforming to gender roles which don’t necessarily reflect their identity often tend to go unspoken, underexplored and unsupported by governmental and other relevant authorities.  

Many of the young women at Drive Forward show us that care experienced women have limitless potential to succeed. Their struggles, along with their successes, demonstrate that our government and society are not doing enough to ensure that their goals and dreams are reached. 

Care Experienced History Month 2021

Join the global exploration of why care is the way it is and how the systems we have in place today came to be, by understanding the history of Care Experienced people

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