Our recent paper examines the educational pathways of 18 care-experienced adults in Ireland. International research has highlighted the generally poor educational outcomes of young people in and leaving care. Some of these studies have also explored the educational pathways taken by young care leavers (i.e. those aged 18-24). Less is known about the educational pathways of ‘older’ care-experienced adults.

I interviewed 11 women and seven men (aged 24 to 36) for this study and asked them to tell me about their journey through education from their earliest memory to present day. I hoped that by hearing from this slightly ‘older’ group I would gain insight into some of the ways adults with care experience fare in relation to education beyond the initial years after leaving care. I found that there were four types of educational pathway taken by the people I spoke to:

Typical pathway: Participants in this group completed their compulsory education ‘on time’ and went on to pursue undergraduate degrees straight after completing their compulsory education
Typical pathway ‘plus’: Participants in this group had all successfully pursued higher education in the years after they left school; this progression involved completion of a one-year further education course after completing compulsory education and prior to entering higher education
Short-term disrupted pathway: Participants in this group had taken a short period of time (1-3 years) out of education in their teenage years before returning to further and/or higher education in their late teens/early 20s.
Long-term disrupted pathway: Participants in this group had taken an extended break (3-10 years) from education before returning, or planning to return, to further or higher education.

People who had experienced disrupted pathways, had taken time out of education for different reasons including managing various roles such as becoming a parent, carer, or employee. Some had also experienced periods of homelessness and addiction.

This research emphasises the value of taking a long-term perspective, and expecting diversity, when it comes to the educational pathways of care-experienced adults. The influence of various roles (e.g. being an employee) and transitions (e.g. becoming a parent) on these pathways is also highlighted. I hope that the findings of this study will be of interest to care-experienced adults, policy makers, practitioners, and researchers. I also hope that study findings will highlight the importance of supporting the educational progress and attainment of people with care experience in more long-term and flexible ways.


Brady, E. and Gilligan, R. 2019. Exploring diversity in the educational pathways of care-experienced adults: Findings from a life course study of education and care. Children and Youth Services Review, 104, 1-11. Available here for free until 16th August 2019.

Eavan Brady / BRADYE3@tcd.ie / @eavanrb