To plan or not to plan: The internal conversations of young people leaving care

The purpose of this research is to characterise the internal conversations of individual young people in transition from state care, with a goal of supporting practitioners’ approaches to ‘pathway planning’, and contributing to theories of agency in emerging adulthood under conditions of long-term adversity. We used Margaret Archer’s theory of agency, in which internal conversations are regarded as playing a central role in mediating between structure and agency. Archer describes three different modes of (actively agential) internal conversation: communicative reflexivity, autonomous reflexivity and metareflexivity; and one mode of passive agency: fractured reflexivity – associated with adverse contextual constraints. In a qualitative design, using Archer’s open-ended interview frameworkwe met nine participants, aged 19–24, varying considerably in outcome, recruited at a specialised service for care leavers in London UK. Analysis of the interview data included an extended phase of individual case analysis. Two participants experienced emerging active agency (however, both experienced elements of fractured reflexivity). Three participants experienced fractured reflexivity, with limited internal conversation, and low planning agency (however, each experienced green shoots of focused internal dialogue). Four participants experienced a survival-oriented mode of internal conversations, a category not found in Archer’s previous work. All four of these participants showed some elements of fractured reflexivity, but narrated rich internal conversations, including accounts of adverse experiences in which self-reliance was seen as having been essential. The majority of participants (across modes) found the idea of planning (beyond day-to-day) anathema.