March 18th 2024

Care leavers in Tyrol

Interview with senior lecturer Christina Lienhart, expert in child and youth welfare research

Care leavers are young people who have spent part of their lives in public education (e.g. in socio-educational residential groups or foster families) and are in the process of transitioning to an independent life. In contrast to most young people who grow up in families, this transition - i.e. moving out - usually takes place on their 18th birthday. An extension of inpatient child and youth welfare services until the age of 21 (assistance for young adults) is only an option at the request of the young person and with special justification (e.g. that education still needs to be completed). In the case of young people who already have significantly higher levels of stress and fewer social and material resources, it is expected in standard assistance practice that they will be able to live independently when they reach the age of majority due to legal conditions.

Following her interview with Tirol Heute, Christina Lienhart also answers some questions on this topic for the study program (research perspective):

Why were you invited for the interview?
What exactly makes you an expert on the situation of care leavers?

For about 20 years I have been involved in research on child and youth welfare in general and in particular on out-of-home care and transitions from out-of-home care, i.e. both the issue of children and young people returning to their families and that of care leavers.

Why does the 18th birthday play a decisive role in the topic of care leavers?

Legally speaking, the responsibility of child and youth welfare services ends when the young person reaches the age of majority. There is follow-up support for young adults - e.g. if they are still in the middle of an apprenticeship, in which case a change of apprenticeship or study is not possible. However, this support is limited to one year and can be granted up to the age of 21. Young adults must apply for this follow-up assistance themselves, but the decision as to whether it can be granted is at the discretion of the child and youth welfare provider. There is no legal entitlement to this help.

18-year-olds, who already have an incredible amount of catching up to do based on their biography, are expected to be able to cope with all aspects of life independently within a short period of time. Existing research shows that this break, this stress, presents young adults with big challenges. Child and youth welfare statistics at least show that more follow-up assistance is provided in Tyrol than the national average. Overall, however, there is a lack of systematic research on care leavers as well as on child and youth welfare in Austria and therefore also on how young people fare after these transitions.

What are these challenges?

From the age of 18, young adults are expected to master all aspects of life in a short period of time without any further support: In addition to financial worries, existential matters also have to be dealt with entirely on their own: Whether renting an apartment will even work out, especially in light of the immensely high rents in Innsbruck or Tyrol, who will pay the deposit, how to take out insurance or whether there is anywhere to turn when support is needed should not be worries that young adults are left to deal with on their own.

International studies show that there is a risk that the successes achieved in the course of support are not sustainable. There is an increased risk that young people will live in precarious living conditions after leaving out-of-home care and can easily slip into the next social system, homelessness assistance, addiction or unemployment. This legally legitimized "break" causes disadvantage and the risk of exclusion.

How important is the family of young adults? 

When they come of age, their own family becomes more important (again). Therefore, it is important to further develop these relationships while they are in external care so that they are available as a resource afterwards. But of course, there are also those who no longer have any contact with their families and the family is no longer a resource or a deliberate separation takes place.

Some parents emphasize that they would have been happy if their child could have stayed in the facility for one or two more years in order to consolidate the positive development of their children. For some young people, this requirement to live alone at 18 can be so frightening that they decide to return home. Others then interpret the return home as their own failure - as if they had not managed to become independent. This is accompanied by a feeling of shame.

What needs to change? Are there any solutions? 

The fact that child and youth welfare is a matter for the federal states is reflected in the different and selective solutions to the care leaver issue across Austria. Experts continue to call for a legal entitlement or an increase in the age at which child and youth welfare services are responsible. One major problem is that this cannot be decided by one federal state alone, but requires the unanimous agreement of all federal states and the federal government.

In Tyrol, there is a budget that is available to the facilities for the aftercare of care leavers in the form of specialist service hours if required - with a focus on "relationship continuity". However, the young adults must apply for aftercare independently.

How is this topic relevant to our Social Work degree program?

The topic of care leavers is highly relevant to Social Work with children, young people, and families. Accordingly, it is addressed and discussed with our students during courses.


Christina Lienhart is a senior lecturer at the Department of Social Work at MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®.

Professional work experience

2021 - present
Senior lecturer - MCI/Department Social Work

2002 - 2021
Research assistant - social science practice research, organizational and environmental analyses, scientific (co-)management of development projects, scientific consulting, conference conception and organization, committee work - Department of Research & Development (formerly Social Pedagogical Institute/SPI)/Department of Pedagogy/SOS Children's Villages

1999 - 2002
Social Worker - University Clinic for Psychiatry Innsbruck/ Dept. IV Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

1995 - 1999
Social Worker - Association Children and Youth Center St. Paulus/Innsbruck


2017 - 2023
Doctoral studies in educational science - University of Siegen

1998 - 2002
Diploma studies in Educational Science - University of Innsbruck (Mag.a)

1995 - 1998
Psychotherapeutic propaedeutic course - University of Innsbruck/Institute for Interpersonal Communication

1992 - 1995
Social Work - Academy for Social Work Innsbruck (DSA)

Christina Lienhart is a senior lecturer at the department Social Work (Bachelor) and Social Work, Social Policy & Management (Master) at MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®. As a Social Worker and educational scientist, she is an expert in child and youth welfare research. Photo: © MCI

DSA Mag. Christina Lienhart | Senior Lecturer Bachelor's program Social Work
DSA Mag. Christina Lienhart Senior Lecturer +43 512 2070 - 3432