Happy birthday-- goodbye! : a study into the readiness and preparedness for independent living of foster care adolescents facing automatic discharge from the custody of the state upon reaching the age of seventeen years : a research project presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement of a Master of Social Work, Turitea Campus, Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act, 1989, a young person
becomes an adult at seventeen. Young people in the statutory custody of the Chief
Executive of Child, Youth and Family are automatically discharged on their seventeenth
The implications of mandatory discharge of custody at seventeen are unresearched in this
country. Extensive studies overseas show that foster care adolescents tend to be
unprepared for independent living, and that their transition to adult living most often
requires, but does not receive, a major input of funding, services and support.
This study examines the nature, experiences and needs of adolescents encountering
mandatory discharge in Aotearoa!New Zealand. It develops the understanding, through a
theoretical framework which includes attachment, identity and ecological theories, that
what happens before and throughout time in care affects individual readiness for
discharge; and that preparation for discharge, coupled with a young person's unique
ability to respond to preparation, affects the ability to manage independently after care.
Analysing perceptions of the 'child as a cost', the study considers the economic and
political environment in which discharge from care is effected in this country. The study
reveals a system of care that provides accommodation for, and, at times, treats the
adolescent, but which generally places insufficient priority on preparation for discharge
and independent living after care.
The study challenges the appropriateness of a chronologically determined definition of
adulthood in the light of a population of young people who have major life skill
deficiencies, who are sorely in need of ongoing intervention to enhance and increase
social competence, and who, rather than 'achieving' independence, simply 'age out' of
care, their dependency needs transferring to other social agencies. The thesis concludes
with recommendations for policy, social work, and further research.