The experience of children and young people in long term foster care

Denenberg, Peter and Broadhurst, Karen and Sayer, Andrew (2016) The experience of children and young people in long term foster care. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Many children and young people who enter foster care have experienced neglect and/or abuse. They display a very wide range of urgent needs and many record poor outcomes of foster care across various domains. Developmental harm poses significant risk for the emergence of problems across the life course, yet there is evidence that many children can still acquire adaptive coping strategies in the face of adversity. The principal aim of this study was to gain insight into the cultures and patterns of social relations that older children and young people create for themselves in foster care. A secondary aim was to make recommendations that would contribute to the literature concerning placement breakdowns and how these might be avoided. This is a qualitative study that used semi-structured interviews, individually adapted according to the age (nine years to twenty two years) and circumstances of the different children and young people participating in the study. A semi-structured interview style aimed to stay close to the voice of the child, giving space for more extended narrative extracts that presented insights into the child’s world. Analysis paid attention not just to what was said, but also how children and young people narrated their experience. The study was carried out in foster placements since foster care is a form of childhood so the home seemed the right context. A key observation drawn from analysis of interview transcripts was the persistence of feelings of connectedness to family members, sometimes over many years of separation. I examined how children and young people in foster care perceived the material basis of care, for example mealtimes, and show these to be variously organised unintentionally to support or undermine their feelings of belonging in placement. I noted the way the children and young people were supported in their adaptation to foster care by such organisation, or were not. I observed how children and young people in foster care managed information in order to deal with conflicts arising from the relations of local authority care. Attachment theory is drawn on to explain the central importance of family and foster family attachments and I show how people in foster care are affected by separation. The research reveals that foster care provides an important service to many of the children and young people in the study. It also reveals how the institutionalised relations of care are played out in children’s accounts, indicating that the power relations of foster care, although nuanced and situated, affect both what happens to children and how they understand themselves and act. I show that without good enough, long term foster care, children and young people in foster care continue to suffer severe disadvantages and their points of view about their situations are sometimes overlooked, over-ridden or distorted. I draw on the elements of the debate about attachment and resilience across the lifespan to suggest a revision for the role of foster carers. The thesis concludes with some general observations on the methodology and specific findings of the research. I reflect on the great difficulty I encountered in gaining access to children and young people in foster care for the purposes of this study. Firm policy recommendations cannot be made on the basis of small-scale doctoral work such as this, but nevertheless, I indicate the policy and practice relevance of my findings, to include, the centrality of separation and loss for children and young people in foster care.

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Thesis (PhD)
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07 Mar 2016 11:48
Last Modified:
16 Jul 2024 05:35