Managing the stigma of foster care with the support of friends

Justin Rogers

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper presents findings from a doctoral study that explored the experiences of young people living in foster care in the United Kingdom (UK). In 2014 there were over 93,000 children and young people living in public care across the UK, with 79% of them placed in a foster care setting.The concept of social capital underpinned the theoretical framework of the study. Social capital is a concept that has previously been utilised in childhood studies and it is described as a useful heuristic to examine practices and processes in social networks (Holland 2007; Morrow 1999). The concept has particular usefulness for understanding experiences of young people in foster care, as their social networks have been disrupted, at an early age, because of their entry into public care. This disruption is often compounded by placement instability and multiple moves during their time in care.Qualitative methods were chosen to examine the practices that young people in foster care engage in with people in their social networks. The data was collected across two qualitative interviews with ten participants, which resulted in a total of twenty interviews. These twenty interviews gathered rich, descriptive and contextualised data and produced over twenty three hours of recorded conversations and over four hundred pages of transcription. Task based visual methods were also utilised, which produced valuable data to analyse with eco-maps and over eighty photographs. During the thematic data analysis the concept of stigma emerged as a key theme. The stigma of being ‘in care’ significantly impacted on these participant’s relationships with people in their networks, which subsequently affected their ability to access social capital. Previous studies have already highlighted that young people growing up in foster care experience stigma (Ridge & Millar 2000; Schofield et al 2000). This study makes an important contribution to this existing literature, with findings that provide insights into the ways young people cope with the challenges of stigma. For example, findings show how the support of friends played a crucial role in enabling these young people to be able to manage their stigmatised ‘in care’ identity. Findings also demonstrate how the participants in this study particularly valued support from other fostered young people, as it enabled them to form an in-group that provided them with a sense of belonging.In light of these findings this paper proposes two key ways to better support young people in foster care who are experiencing stigma. Firstly, by recognising and valuing the importance of friendship groups and enabling young people to maintain their existing friendships across their social networks. Secondly, by developing more opportunities that bring fostered young people together, which enables them to interact with their peers without the pressure of managing stigma.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016
EventEuropean Conference for Social Work Research - Catholic University of Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 30 Mar 20161 Apr 2016


ConferenceEuropean Conference for Social Work Research


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