Patterns of criminal activity among residential care-leavers in South Africa

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Research on care-leaving internationally suggests that young adults with experience of residential or foster care are disproportionately likely to engage in criminal activity and to come into conflict with the law. There is, however, no research on this population in South Africa. This paper reports on a longitudinal study of young people transitioning out of care and journeying towards young adulthood over a period of five years. The sample included 51 participants who had had at least two (and up to five) interviews (spaced approximately a year apart) since leaving care. A mixed methods design was utilised to investigate their patterns of criminal engagement over time. Results suggest three patterns among this sample of care-leavers: those who are ‘crime free’, reporting no criminal activity over two or more post-care interviews (73% of the sample); those reporting ‘incidental crime’, viz. criminal activity in just one follow-up interview, with the crime being of low severity and seldom having conflict with the law (10% of participants); and those reporting ‘regular crime’, viz. criminal activity in two or more follow-up interviews, with more severe types of crime and greater likelihood of coming into conflict with the law (including being found guilty of a crime in court and spending a night or more in jail) and an increase in frequency and severity of crime over the years out of care (18% of participants). Findings are discussed in relation to international literature and implications for practice are proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104706
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Aging out of care
  • Care leaving
  • Crime
  • Criminal subgroups
  • Foster youth
  • Leaving care
  • Longitudinal
  • Offending

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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