University of Sussex
Shuttleworth, Paul Daniel.pdf (2.88 MB)
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What matters to children living in kinship care: "another way of being a normal family"

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posted on 2023-06-10, 00:02 authored by Paul ShuttleworthPaul Shuttleworth
Background: Kinship care is the long-term caring arrangement within the family constellation for children who cannot remain with their birth parents. Despite being the most prevalent alternative care arrangement for children worldwide, there is a lack of research into kinship care. Few studies focus on the child's perspectives, and very few explicitly focus on the meaning of permanence for the children. These children often have similar needs as others that have experienced abuse and neglect. Additionally, they must manage complex dislocated family relationships, and most experience financial hardship with very little support. The little kinship care research that has been done reflects a preoccupation with comparing kinship care as an alternative to state care rather than a family set up within its own right. Also, research, legislation and practice for kinship care has been founded on the concerns and debates for adoption and fostering processes. This typically produces a range of atheoretical, descriptive outcome studies that often provide conflicting answers by focussing on the what rather than the how. This can cause ambivalence for practitioners, academics, and policymakers. Objective: This is the first study that has solely sought the views of children in kinship care in England. It explores the lived experiences of 19 children in such arrangements. More specifically, it focuses on kinship care as a permanence option. The study does not presuppose certain theories of permanence, childhood, or family. Instead, theoretical explanations emerge from the children's own valuations of their family lives. This can enable social workers to find more attuned ways to support, protect, and permanency plan for children out with the traditional concepts of permanence, family, childhood, and care that are often taken for granted. Methodology/methods: The study's innovative approach utilises critical realism as an underlabourer, and Sayer's (2011) work on reasoning in particular. By using a dialogical participative approach, different methods such as child-led tours, photo-elicitation, and visual methods were used to capture the children's valuations of their lives. Utilising a range of theories provided empirical certainty with an interpretivist awareness of subjectivities. Results: In their family lives, children in kinship care navigate the in-between of the purported binary positions often ascribed to care, kinship, permanence, autonomy, and recognition. Through thematic analysis and retroduction, it was found that the children manage the mechanisms of 'Connection/Separation', 'Recognition/(Mis)recognition', 'Care & Protection/Independence & Risk'. Conclusions/Implications: By using a range of methods, children are competent in giving nuanced and sophisticated understandings of their own experiences, needs, and intentions. Also, privileging children's accounts of family, care and childhood, reinvigorates the current policy and practice debates in UK social work. Children's views challenge the dominant adult-centric framing of the social work debates that emphasise the professionalisation of kinship care as a placement and a process-driven service. The study also reinvigorates the debates regarding permanence. The children show that kinship care arrangements disrupt both notions of substitute care and also birth family care. They provide insight into the fluidity inherent in their family's composition and the roles and responsibilities for their ongoing care across it. The children navigate and manage these relationships, their sense of autonomous interdependence, and their sense of permanence across the family network and, at times, away from it. Traditional notions of placement, contact, and life-story work are (mis)recognitions of their family lives. Therefore, more attuned recognition can provide more meaningful support for children in kinship care where multiple family relationships endure but are also often in flux.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


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