By Ashlee Kitchenham


Career development is often an exploratory and leisurely process for many young people transitioning into adulthood from industrialized countries in the 21st century (Arnett, 2000). This population is typically supported emotionally and practically by their family of origin and as a result they are able to allocate more time and resources to pursue higher levels of education and gradually navigate employment opportunities. However, young people involved in formal care systems often have a substantially different experience of career development.

Specifically, this population often transitions into adulthood at an expedited pace, without the same resources or supports as their non-care peers (Courtney & Heuring, 2005). Many of these young people depend on the care system for support, typically having no family they can rely on. However, once they reach the age of majority they are emancipated from care and the little support they had been able to receive is cut off. These young people then abruptly transition into adulthood, expected to somehow make it on their own (Courtney & Heuring, 2005).

Not surprisingly, research widely demonstrates this population’s career development is greatly compromised. Many young people from care experience poor academic achievement, are subject to underemployment or unemployment, and earn an income below the federal poverty level (Barth, 1990; Courtney et al., 2011; Dixon, 2007; Kufeldt, 2003; Pecora et al., 2006). However, though the extraordinary challenges and pervasive negative outcomes often experienced by this population in career development are well documented, less attention has been given to exploring the experiences that promote positive career development outcomes among this population. Though not frequently noted, a subsection of this population does experience career development success. These young people are able to pursue postsecondary education, secure meaningful employment, and earn an adequate income.

A thematic review of the limited body of research addressing positive career development experiences among young people formerly in care yielded several important themes related to these young peoples’ care experiences. The analysis demonstrated the experience of support, age at leaving care, care stability history, and work experience all greatly contributed to these young peoples’ career development success. The experience of support was the most prevalent theme among young people formerly in care who had experienced positive career development outcomes. Particularly, receiving emotional and practical support was related to better academic and career experiences (Arnau-Sabatés & Gilligan, 2015; Frimpong-Manso, 2017; Merdinger, Hines, Osterling, & Wyatt, 2005; Rios & Rocco, 2014; Rutman & Hubberstey, 2016; Wade & Dixon, 2006). Further, those who left care at a later age, as well as those who experienced a lower frequency of care placement or school moves, were more likely to experience positive educational and occupational outcomes (Courtney & Hook, 2016; Merdinger et al., 2005; Pecora et al., 2006; Rios & Rocco, 2014; Stewart, Kum, Barth, & Duncan 2013; Wade & Dixon, 2006). Lastly, work experience prior to 18 years of age was associated with better career outcomes (Arnau-Sabatés & Gilligan, 2015; Courtney & Hook, 2016; Stewart et al., 2013).

Overall, the thematic review revealed that although the majority of the literature is saturated with discussions of adversity, there are several identifiable factors that contribute to more positive career development outcomes for young people who were formerly in care. These results have the potential to inform policies related to formal care system experiences and yield several practical recommendations for professionals who work with these young people to better set this population up for career development success.


Author Bio

Ashlee Kitchenham, BA, is currently completing her Masters of Education degree with a specialization in Counselling Psychology at the University of New Brunswick. Her research interests include the career development experiences of vulnerable youth and young adults. She has previous experience working as a residential youth and family counsellor among this population.



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