Troubling Meanings of ‘Family' for Young People in Care: Connecting Perspectives

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:45
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Janet BODDY, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
This paper draws together reflections on the meanings of ‘family’ that arise from three research projects in Europe, all of which have been concerned with young people who are placed away from home (sometimes described as ‘in care’ or ‘looked after’). The first study, Beyond Contact, examined work with families of children in care in England, France, Denmark and the Netherlands, combining policy review with interviews with professional stakeholders. The other two studies – Everyday Lives and Transitions to Adulthood (in France and England) and Against All Odds? (in Norway, Denmark and England) – use qualitative methods (including interviews and photography) to explore the perspectives and experiences of young people in care and care leavers.  Taken together, the three studies provide a resource through which to trouble the concept and discourses of ‘family’.

Studies of care leavers (eg Ward 2011) have highlighted the importance for young people of ‘a sense of belonging and connectedness’, yet there has been a surprising lack of attention to the meaning and importance of family relationships for children and young people in the care system. Looking across four European countries, the Beyond Contact study considers how family is constructed in policy and professional discourse, illuminating variations in reference to rights (of parents or children) – and what those rights entail – alongside understandings of risk and the best interests of the child. By considering these findings alongside data from interviews with young people, the paper will reflect on the (dis)connections between policy rhetoric and lived experience, considering how young people value and practice family relationships through the complexity and discontinuities of care systems, and how family is positioned in their understandings and expectations of their own lives and identities.