Article

Intimacy among relative strangers: Practices of touch and bodily care in new foster care relationships

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Abstract

When children move into a new foster care family, they and the foster carers are initially strangers to one another. Without knowing one another’s history, experiences and practices, foster carers and children are expected to get settled quite quickly in the intimate setting that makes up family life. In these early days of a new placement, bodily intimacy is brought to the forefront; how the foster carers manage bodily care and go about touch without any ‘embodied knowledge’ of the child. This study draws on in-depth interviews with eight foster care couples and explores how foster carers construct practices around bodily care and touch in new foster care relationships. Findings of the study showed that in some cases (babies) the foster carers felt it was ‘natural’ and relatively straightforward to care for the child in an intimate and bodily sense. However, most often the foster carers experienced that either they or the children had felt discomfort, often lead by a lack of embodied knowledge and around reading and understanding one another’s bodily signals. The study emphasizes how children’s prior trajectories around negative, positive or absent touch are imperative for the dynamics of bodily care practices in new foster care relationships. Children may express their embodied experiences very differently, and foster carers, also having embodied biographies, can enact bodily practices in a more or less negotiable manner, adjusted to the child.

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... In relation to touch/physical affection, the inhibiting effects of formalisation, fear of abuse allegations and risk management have often been highlighted as having potential adverse effects on the care and well-being of looked after children (Pithouse and Rees, 2011). However, research has also emphasised the significant challenges for foster carers in 'reading signals' from children who are initially strangers to the family and may have complex and difficult prior experiences relating to touch (Pithouse and Rees, 2011;Luckow, 2020). The stocktake assesses risk of allegations as 'remote' (Narey and Owers, 2018, p. 12), but foster carers may view this differently, with annual rates of 3 to 4 per cent (Biehal, 2014a) and career experience over a third (Lawson and Cann, 2019). ...
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Book
v.1. The problem of social reality -- v.2. Studies in social theory -- v.3. Studies in phenological philosophy Incluye índice
Article
Researching Intimacy in Families introduces and invigorates understandings of intimacy and family relationships. It offers an incisive engagement with the sociology of intimacy and the methods needed to research families, children and personal life. Using original data the book opens out the theoretical debate on intimacy and illustrates the potential of qualitative mixed-methods in capturing the richness and complexity of family life. Jacqui Gabb brings to life methodology teaching through extensive illustrations of methods in the context of families and childhood research, including innovatory methods and approaches designed and piloted by the author.
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