What’s the story? by Dr Cat Hugman (2018) #CAREEXPERIENCEDRESEARCH

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

Sociological explorations of the life course narratives of adults with care experience


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Cat's PhD thesis extends understandings of people who experienced care by making use of sociological approaches and concepts. This approach highlights how previous research and cultural representations of young people in care produce individualised understandings and psychological explanations of difference. This is compounded by a lack of research on care leavers over the age of 25 and the omission of care experienced people’s voices within what little research there is. These absences may contribute to the depiction of the deficit, ascribed identity of being a child in care.

To address these absences, the methodological design was exploratory, qualitative and interpretive and included 11 care experienced adults aged between 30 and 80. Data was collected by using a biographical narrative interpretive method of interviewing. Participants’ stories were analysed inductively, drawing on sociological approaches and concepts, which included the sociology of youth, childhood and family and the social theories of Bourdieu and Honneth.

The results demonstrate how participants’ narratives show that their identities are negotiated across the life course. Crucially, participants’ identities are not reducible to their care experiences but emerge and are negotiated from diverse events across their life course. Participants are differently equipped to negotiate the deficit identity of being a child in care; depending on their life experiences and their access to material, social and emotional resources. In this research, the realisations of negative expectations of care leavers within the told stories are in part produced culturally, relationally and systematically.

It is concluded that this sociological approach to the exploration of the identity of care experienced adults is of value as it situates participants’ experiences within a broader framework that discusses social, cultural and political forces. Furthermore, this finding may support others researching other groups with problematised identities. Recommendations are made for future research, highlighting in particular the ways in which the evidence base about care leavers’ life courses can be further developed.

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