Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16307 The Experience of Jordanian Youth Leaving Out of Home Care Placements

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 9:45 AM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Rawan W. Ibrahim, PhD, Project Coordinator, Columbia University, Amman, Jordan
Background and purpose: The problems faced by young people leaving residential out-of-home care to join the adult world are well known. These problems are exacerbated in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, where the prevailing collectivist culture values family identity as a source of self-worth and support. Little research exists to describe the experiences of care-leavers aging out of child protection systems in the Middle East, despite the pervasive use of institutions to provide long-term alternative care when children are orphaned, abandoned or maltreated. This qualitative study examines the strategies employed by young adults to support themselves as they transitioned from residential care to independent living in the Jordan.

Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit 42 care-leavers to participate in semi-structured interviews (n=42) and focus groups (n=13) conducted in Arabic about their care-leaving experiences. Participants were 50% female, between the ages 17 to 28 years when interviewed, and had spent an average of 14 years in residential care. A grounded theory analytical framework was employed, facilitated by the use of NVivo software.

Results: Jordanian care-leavers, who had aged out of the system at 18 years-of-age, described many experiences similar to those reported by young people leaving care in other countries including struggles to continue education, find accommodation, secure employment, and cope financially. Of particular interest was the more specific finding that the cultural values of patriarchy, family life, and collectivism characteristic across Arab countries had a deeply pervasive impact on many of the care leavers' post-care experiences. The reasons that brought the young people into care, and the lack of family that most experienced upon leaving care, increased the risk of them being stigmatised. For many, managing their post-care identity in a patriarchal, family-based culture proved difficult and stressful. Although some care-leavers did receive exceptional, albeit informal support from friends and employers, the challenges faced by the care leavers were often exacerbated by the cultural values explicit in a society that is patriarchal, family-based and honour-bound.

Conclusions and Implications: The challenge of sustaining a forced individual identity in a collectivist society is magnified for children whose community connections were severed through long-term institutional placement. Theoretical perspectives on care leaving suggest that community relations for these children should be normalized whenever possible. Results of this study point to the need to establish viable culturally appropriate alternatives to institutional placements to preserve and maintain a more normal family life and to prevent being disconnected and excluded from communities. The absence of community-based family care alternatives for children in the Kingdom, presents a series of risks to healthy transitions to adulthood for children aging out, and through stigma and lack of significant stable caregiver attachments narrows the opportunity structure for youth cared for in institutions.