Jokes and routines make everyday life a good life—on ‘doing family’ for young people in foster care in Sweden

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Brunel University London]On: 04 November 2014, At: 15:25Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    European Journal of Social WorkPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:

    Jokes and routines make everyday lifea good lifeon doing family for youngpeople in foster care in SwedenLena Hedin , Ingrid Hjer & Elinor BrunnbergPublished online: 04 Oct 2011.

    To cite this article: Lena Hedin , Ingrid Hjer & Elinor Brunnberg (2012) Jokes and routines makeeveryday life a good lifeon doing family for young people in foster care in Sweden, EuropeanJournal of Social Work, 15:5, 613-628, DOI: 10.1080/13691457.2011.579558

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  • Jokes and routines make everyday lifea good life*on doing family foryoung people in foster care in Sweden

    Skamt och rutiner gor vardagen till enbra dag*Om familjeskapande forfosterhemsplacerade ungdomar iSverigeLena Hedin, Ingrid Hojer & Elinor Brunnberg

    The aim of this article is to identify inclusion practices in foster families by studying the

    everyday life of young people entering various types of foster family. Structure and

    warmth in the family stand out as important dimensions of everyday life. What is not so

    evident in previous research is the way emotional warmth is created. In particular,

    joking, gentle teasing and laughing, which in this paper stand out as important inclusion

    practices, seem to be rather unknown aspects in foster care, as is the importance of doing

    things together in everyday life. The young peoples contributions in creating a good

    family atmosphere are visible in the study, as is their capacity to adapt to a new family.

    Daily routines normalise the adolescents everyday life. Negotiations make them part of

    important decisions, and may strengthen them as social agents. Foster parents positive

    attitude towards birth family facilitates birth parents support to their children. In this

    case study, mixed qualitative methods are used: interviews, network maps, beepers and

    video recordings in the foster home.

    Keywords: Inclusion Practices; Kinship Family; Everyday Life; Foster Children; Humour

    Correspondence to: Lena Hedin, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Orebro, 70182, Sweden. Email:

    ISSN 1369-1457 (print)/ISSN 1468-2664 (online) # 2012 Taylor & Francis

    European Journal of Social Work

    Vol. 15, No. 5, November 2012, pp. 613628




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  • Syftet med denna artikel ar att identifiera inkluderande familjepraktiker i familje-

    hemsvard genom att studera vardagslivet for ungdomar som kommer till olika slags

    familjehem. Struktur och varme i familjen framstar som viktiga dimensioner av

    vardagligt liv. Nagot som inte ar sa uppenbart i tidigare forskning ar det satt pa vilket

    emotionell varme skapas. I synnerhet skamt, skojande och skratt, vilka i detta papper

    framstar som viktiga inkluderande praktiker, verkar vara tamligen okanda aspekter av

    familjehemsvard, liksom i viss man betydelsen av att i vardagen gora saker tillsammans.

    Ungdomarnas bidrag till att skapa en god familjeatmosfar synliggors i studien, liksom

    deras formaga att anpassa sig till en ny familj. Dagliga rutiner normaliserar

    ungdomarnas vardagsliv. Forhandlingar gor dem delaktiga i viktiga beslut och kan

    starka dem som sociala aktorer. Fosterforaldrarnas positiva attityd mot ungdomarnas

    familj underlattar foraldrarnas stod till sitt barn. I denna fallstudie anvands blandade

    kvalitativa metoder: intervjuer, natverkskartor, beepers och videoinspelningar i


    Nyckelord: Inkluderande Praktiker; Slaktingfamilj; Vardagsliv; Fosterbarn; Humor


    In Sweden, about 15,800 children and adolescents were placed in out-of-home

    care as of 1 November 2008, 71% of which were in foster homes. Of those in

    foster care, 61% were adolescents, 1320 years old (Swedish National Board ofHealth and Welfare, 2009). Teenagers are a vulnerable group as regards disruptions

    in foster care; in Sweden, like in other countries, placement breakdown is a serious

    problem (Sallnas et al., 2004; Oosterman et al., 2007). A vital question is what

    happens in the foster family when a foster youth arrives and how this change

    affects the young person. There are some studies about family life in foster

    families from the perspective of foster carers (see e.g. Brown & Campbell, 2007),

    foster siblings (see e.g. Hojer & Nordenfors, 2006), and also foster children (see

    e.g. Brannen et al., 2000). However, more in-depth studies about everyday life of a

    foster family are rare.


    The aim of this article is to identify inclusion practices of foster families by

    studying the everyday life of young people entering different types of foster

    families. The questions concern the nature of everyday interactions in the foster

    family, and how these influence the young peoples emotions and relations with

    their foster parents and social network. The different types of foster families are

    the kinship family (relatives), the network family (previously known, non-

    relatives), and the traditional foster family (previously unknown, recruited by the

    social services). Listening to the views of the young people in care is central in

    this study.

    614 L. Hedin et al.




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  • Doing family

    Constructions of family are products of human interaction and communication

    (Holstein & Gubrium, 1999). In the present article, the interaction and

    communication on the micro-level, the ways of doing family, are examined

    with the intention to identify inclusion practices in foster families. The meanings

    that family members attach to family relations (Holstein & Gubrium, 1999) are of

    interest, but also how family life is organised*the family practices in daily life(Morgan, 1996). The focus is on everyday routines and peoples descriptions of

    their experiences.

    The underlying perspective of this study is the new sociology of childhood, which

    understands children as social agents in cooperation with the surrounding world. The

    young people are seen as social actors shaping and shaped by their circumstances (see

    e.g. James & Prout, 1997).

    Randall Collinss (2004) micro-sociological theory of Interaction Ritual (IR)

    chains can illuminate important aspects of the young persons interaction in the

    foster family. According to Collins, it is the culture of daily life that reinforces

    membership in informal groups, for example, families. This can involve how

    people communicate with each other, what ideals they express, what they do, and

    so on. The basic idea is that successful rituals, based on a mutual focus of

    attention and shared mood within a group, create symbols of group membership

    and solidarity and charge the individual with emotional energy. Failed rituals

    deprive the individual of emotional energy. Emotional energy is a feeling of self-

    confidence, warmth and enthusiasm for social interaction. The emotional energy

    gathered within, for instance, the foster family accompanies the young person

    when integrating with others, for example in the birth family, and vice versa. And

    so the chain goes on. A persons cultural capital is important and includes

    reputation (Collins, 2004). The young persons cultural capital can change and

    develop in a new context, as can feelings of, for example, shame, joy and pride,

    that is primary emotions that influence the individuals self-esteem (Scheff, 1994).

    The inner life of a foster family

    The following overview of previous research tries to unpack the concept of good

    care to find out what facilitates inclusion in the foster family.

    Some qualitative information about what comprises good care can be gleaned from

    foster children transitioning into adulthood. They need to practise skills of self-

    determination and take part in important decisions about themselves while in care.

    They also need caring, trusting relationships (Cashmore & Paxman, 2006; Geenen &

    Powers, 2007). Some young people remanded to foster care in England reported that

    their time in foster care gave them a positive experience of family life and that they

    felt cared for, which for some also had an impact on their self-esteem (Lipscombe,

    2006). Others felt it instilled hope for their future. They appreciated the caring,

    European Journal of Social Work 615




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  • nurturing and respectful attitude they encountered. Being treated as normal was

    crucial (Lipscombe, 2006).

    Other researchers have found having a normal family life to be important to

    foster children (Martin & Jackson, 2002; Sinclair, 2005). Andersson (2001)

    considers regular routines, where childrens everyday life resembles that of

    everyone else, to be of great significance in restoring a normal childhood. A

    qualitative study of the inner world of 10 foster families with a focus on

    embodiment shows the importance of bodily care for most foster youth (Rees &

    Pithouse, 2008). Examples of bodily care that facilitate entering a new foster home

    are being offered a bath or a meal upon arrival (Lipscombe, 2006).

    A sense of a secure base and participation in decisions are what Gilligan (2006)

    sees as necessary to promote resilience in children in care. In a study of Canadian

    foster carers perceptions of placement success, basic safety and security stand out

    as important, to provide a happy home where basic needs are met, and foster

    children are treated just as well as the biological children (Brown & Campbell,

    2007). Foster children need compassion, care, understanding and belonging

    (Sinclair, 2005; Gilligan, 2006), a warm place where children can blossom

    (Gilligan, 2006).

    Supportive relations between foster parents and biological parents are important,

    especially with regard to the young persons development of identity (Andersson,

    1998, 2005; Linares et al., 2006; Brown & Campbell, 2007). Foster carers can help to

    negotiate young peoples relationships with their family (Lipscombe, 2006). In her

    longitudinal study of former foster children in Sweden, Andersson (2009) comes to

    the conclusion that they all had to work through their feelings about their parents

    shortcomings, and that a tolerant and supportive attitude on the part of the foster

    parents facilitated this process.

    In Hojers study (2001) of foster parents experiences of what happens in a

    family when it becomes a foster family, it emerges that they can be forced to find

    other parental strategies, which demands greater explicitness and may even lead

    to stricter discipline and a more rigid atmosphere in the home. This can be

    related to a study of 14-year-olds and their parents that focuses on the concept of

    monitoring (Kerr & Stattin, 2000). The researchers discovered that it is not the

    level of control, but the amount of openness in the relationship between parent

    and child that gives the parent information about the childs situation through the

    childs spontaneous narratives. Higher levels of parental control give the

    adolescents feelings of being controlled, which are linked with poor adaptation.

    With reference to foster families, it is interesting how they can create openness in

    the relationship with a new family member instead of imposing harsh discipline.

    In a research review concerning kinship care and traditional foster care,

    Winokur et al. (2009) draw the conclusion that children in kinship care do better

    with regard to their behavioural development, mental health functioning and

    placement stability than those in other forms of foster care. In a UK study, Farmer

    616 L. Hedin et al.




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  • and Moyers (2008) report that kin carers showed much higher levels of

    commitment to the foster children than unrelated foster carers.

    In short, the main constituent elements of good quality foster care seem to be

    foster youth participating in decisions about themselves, basic routines in family life,

    bodily care, a warm atmosphere in the home, being treated as normal, and supportive

    relations between foster parents and birth parents. These can be seen as a base for

    inclusion. However, there is a lack of studies showing how the concrete interaction

    and communication come to function as inclusion practices in different kinds of

    foster families.

    The Swedish context

    The proportion of foster children aged 1317 years old placed in kinship families in2008 amounted to about 20%, calculated from official statistics (Swedish National

    Board of Health and Welfare, 2009). Since 2004, the term kinship family in Swedish

    official statistics refers both to families that are relatives and families close to the

    child. These statistics do not distinguish between other network families (less

    familiar) and traditional families, which altogether correspond to 80% of placements.

    Some European countries, for example in southern Europe, have a tradition of

    informal family and friends care (Broad, 2004). In Sweden all non-temporary

    placements have to be regulated through the social authorities, including kinship