Exploring the Personal Constructs of Looked After Children and their Foster Carers: a Qualitative Study
Previous research has indicated the unique contribution that the interaction between looked after children and their foster carers might have on young people’s behaviour, emotional well-being and subsequent placement stability. Furthermore, there may be differences in the way in which young people and their foster carers view a typical family. Despite this, there is a noticeable absence of studies which have specifically explored the foster carer-child relationship, particularly in terms of how their individual perspectives might be negotiated within their interpersonal relationship. The current study therefore aimed to address this gap. Three foster carer-child dyads were recruited from a local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, with young people aged between 8 and 16 years. A Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) approach was adopted. Participants each completed an individual interview, facilitated by Perceiver Element Grids (PEGs; Procter, 2002) in which interpersonal construing was explored. Looked after children and their foster carers were then interviewed together to share and discuss their completed PEGs. Interview transcripts were analysed using Thematic Analysis and PCP concepts were used to analyse the interactional processes between young people and their carers. The study highlighted a shared sense of fragmentation across participants’ accounts, with both looked after children and their carers reporting a sense of inauthenticity in the way they negotiated their interpersonal relationships. Differences in the way in which ‘family’ was perceived was also highlighted, with young people expressing a sense of ambivalence regarding their desire to be integrated into their foster family, whilst also retaining a connection to their birth family. These themes were supported in their interactions and co-constructional processes. The findings are discussed in relation to the relevant literature and clinical implications. Methodological limitations and directions for future research are also presented.