University of Sussex
Evans, Helen Kathryn.pdf (1.63 MB)

“Making a tiny impact?” Listening to workers talk about their role in the transitions to adulthood of young people housed by the state.

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posted on 2023-06-09, 06:23 authored by Helen Kathryn Evans
This is a small scale, qualitative research study, based on focus group and interview data from eight participants across two workplaces. The participants are workers involved in supporting those young people who are unable to live with their families during their transition to adulthood: they are drawn from two services within the same local authority, leaving care and a specialist adolescent support service which provides housing and support for homeless 16 and 17 year olds. A review of the literature in this field identifies a gap in the research, with few studies focussed on the voices of workers engaged in this specific area of work. I have used three analytical frameworks (thematic, narrative and voice-centred relational) to explore the data from different perspectives. Positioning the data in this three-dimensional framework has enabled me to produce an in-depth analysis, considering more than simply the content of participants’ responses. My findings are presented as a reflexive account, exploring how the respondents talk about their work. The data suggests that the talk falls into two broad areas: workers positioning themselves within a framework of organisation(s) and workers positioning themselves in relation to individual young people. A picture emerges from the data of two quite different workplaces. The relative structure and clarity of the leaving care personal adviser’s job role appears to unite this group of workers around a more coherent script for talking about the work they do. In contrast, the workers from the specialist adolescent service openly acknowledge that there are differences of approach within their organisation, and appear to lack a shared way of articulating their role. The way in which the workers position themselves within the organisation also differs between the two groups: the leaving care workers talk passionately about the division between ‘us’ (workers) and ‘them’ (management). The specialist adolescent workers barely mention their managers, and there is little talk of a group identity (an ‘us’). These workers talk about the relationship they develop with individual young people as an intervention in itself. This relationship is conceptualised in various ways, with the clearest construct being parent-child. There appears to be a difference between the two organisations in the way in which this parent role is enacted: leaving care workers talk of an organisational corporate parenting responsibility, whilst workers from the specialist adolescent service talk more freely of thinking and acting as a good parent. In relation to their direct 1:1 work, the majority of participants describe using conversation to facilitate the development of problem solving skills, encouraging reflective thinking through the process of co-creating narrative. These emotional and cognitive skills are talked about as more valuable than specific practical independent living skills. The data suggests that emotional labour is acknowledged and managed very differently in these two workplaces. The leaving care group found it difficult to talk about the emotional aspects of their role, and this plays out in different ways in the interviews. Some participants describe struggling to manage the emotional impact of their work, otherwise struggle to articulate the emotional content of the work. As a group, they retreat from talk of emotional involvement with young people, distancing themselves by stating that it is beyond what is possible within their role. In contrast, the workers from the specialist adolescent service talk more comfortably about their emotional responses to the work: they appear to feel safer using themselves in their work, and seem better able to contain this emotional labour within the overall professional boundaries of their role. Workers talk of ‘making a tiny impact’ - acknowledging the potential for their support to make a positive difference in young people’s lives, whilst also highlighting the limitations of their role.


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  • Social Work and Social Care Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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