How to increase the involvement of young people in decisions which affect them?

What is the best way for fostering providers to increase the involvement of young people, coming into foster care, in decisions which affect them?

Young People’s Everyday Lives and Their Sense of Belonging
My name is Lena Hedin. I am a researcher and senior lecturer in social work at Örebro University in Sweden. I am also a former social worker. Working in foster care made me interested in what it is like for children and young people to enter a new family, whether it is a family they already know or one that is previously unfamiliar.

This became the focus of my Ph.D. thesis, completed in 2012. The aim of this research was to examine young people’s everyday life in their different contexts, after entering various types of foster families, and to identify processes that influence their sense of belonging.

The different kinds of foster families were:

  • kinship,
  • network (non-relative but previously known), and
  • traditional (previously unknown, recruited through the social services) foster families.

In-depth interviews were undertaken with 17 foster youth, and repeated after one year with 15 of them. Other methods used were network maps about important relationships, narrative accounts over six days about the young people’s here-and-now situation, and video recordings of everyday situations in the foster family. See the links below for articles published from this thesis.

Results from Lena’s research
My research showed some interesting things about everyday life for young people in foster care:

  • Foster youth displayed motivation and ability for academic improvement, even despite previous severe problems in school. My research indicates that young people’s satisfaction with school is related to the quality of care they receive.
  • The importance of both structure and warmth in foster youth’s everyday life. Routines normalize their daily life. Emotional warmth is created through shared rituals. In particular gentle joking and laughing together stand out as important inclusion practices.
  • The young people in kinship and network foster families reported the strongest social bonds to their foster families and the adolescents in traditional foster families the weakest. Including network foster families in the study sheds light on the importance of adolescents’ active involvement in choosing their foster family.
  • The follow-up study (after one year) strengthens previous findings about the importance of mutual activities and laughing together in the foster family for the creation of social bonds and belonging; the lack of these was related to disruptions. Over time, adolescents in traditional foster families had strengthened their social bonds to their foster family. That therapeutic support was more common one year on exposes foster youth’s vulnerability, for girls in particular.

On the whole, my research shows that foster youth can be active participants and agents in their own lives, both in developing and breaking relations. This is strengthened by negotiations and taking part in decisions concerning themselves. The importance of an ‘open foster family’ to both foster youth and their birth families is emphasized as well as humour as a door-opener into the foster family. Now I am working with a follow-up study of the same youth four years after the last study, when they already have or are going to leave care.

References

Foster youth’s sense of belonging in kinship, network and traditional foster families. An interactive perspective on foster youth’s everyday life.
http://oru.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:458027/FULLTEXT02.pdf (article 1-3 included)

Article four in my dissertation is now published in the last number of Child and Family Social Work, 2014, 19, 165-173
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2012.00887.x/pdf

Good Relations between Foster Parents and Birth Parents: A Swedish Study of Practices Promoting Successful Cooperation in Everyday Life

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13575279.2015.1005574

 

 

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