A Scoping Review of Factors Associated With the Mental Health of Young People Who Have “Aged Out” of the Child Welfare System

Alice R. Phillips, Sarah L. Halligan, Iris Lavi, John A.A. Macleod, Susan Robinson, David Wilkins, Rachel M. Hiller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Young people who grow up in care and then exit care around the age of 18 (care-leavers) are a particularly vulnerable group, at increased risk for mental health problems even relative to other care-experienced groups. Yet, little is understood about the factors underpinning this association. We used scoping review methods to synthesize the quantitative and qualitative literature on factors that are associated with mental health problems for care-leavers. Following rigorous methods, we systematically searched three scientific databases spanning psychology and social care and identified 23 peer-reviewed studies for inclusion. This review highlights the heterogeneity of this research, in terms of methodology and topics investigated. Topics included are as follows: pre-care maltreatment, care-related experiences, psychological factors (emotion regulation), social support, education, and adult functioning (e.g., housing, finances, employment). We found mixed and inconsistent findings across research studies. The strongest evidence-base is around the influence of social support upon the mental health of recent care-leavers, though methodological problems are discussed. The field benefits from several large-scale observational and longitudinal research studies. However, there is an over-reliance upon retrospective reporting, and the use of unvalidated measures is common. It is apparent that there are significant gaps in our current understanding of the mental health of care-leavers, in particular around modifiable factors. We discuss potential directions for future empirical research, both in terms of methodology and factors investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalTrauma, Violence, and Abuse
Early online date30 Sep 2023
StateE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • child welfare
  • foster care
  • mental health
  • qualitative
  • quantitative
  • scoping review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Applied Psychology


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