Changing relationships with the self and others: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of a Traveller and Gypsy life in public care




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Background: The implementation of the Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care Green Paper (Department for Education and Skills, (DfES) 2006) and the subsequent Care Matters: Time for Change White Paper (DfES, 2007), witnessed the consolidation of a universal ambition to improve the opportunities for all children living in care. Arguably, the most important recommendation in this pursuit is reflected in the need to provide people who have lived in care as children with independent support, which enables them to discuss their experiences, and suggest ways in which the care system might be improved. However, whilst this recommendation has been implemented with a diverse range of care leavers, the impact of the experience of living in care and the associated disadvantage experienced by Travellers and Gypsies remains under researched, understated, and unacknowledged (Cemlyn et al., 2009).

Methodology: Guided by the philosophical assumptions of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), this study represents and constructs the experience of living in public care by focusing on the voices 10 Travellers and Gypsies who lived in care as children. Testimonies were collected through a wide variety of methods that included face-to-face interviews, focus groups, telephone interviews, blogs, emails, letters, song lyrics, and poems.

Findings: Following a considered application of IPA, six main themes emerged from the analysis. These were social intervention; an emotional rollercoaster of separation, transition, and reincorporation; a war against becoming settled; leaving care and the changing relationship with the self and others; inclusion and strength; and, messages for children living in care. In line with the tenets of phenomenology, these findings are presented in such a way to as to invite the reader to move away from their own personal understanding of the world in order to enter the ‘lifeworld’ (Husserl, 1970, 1982) of Travellers and Gypsies who lived in care as children. However, to assist in this sense making activity, this study also provides a discrete interpretation of the findings before developing this knowledge to form a more detailed theoretical construct entitled ‘the model of reflective self-concepts’. Taken together with the testimonies of each person who took part in the study, the thesis enables an understanding of how the experience of living in care is inextricably linked to a process of social and psychological acculturation. By staying close to the experiences provided, it reveals how a process of change is determined, more often than not, by a sense of personal resilience directly related towards a Traveller or Gypsy self-concept. In attempt to move towards service improvement, this thesis offers a series of recommendations and conclusions which aim to support social workers and carers empower Traveller and Gypsy children to develop a secure Traveller and Gypsy self-concept thus enabling them experience improved outcomes including those opportunities set out in Care Matters social policy agenda (DfES, 2006; 2007).



Travellers, Gypsies, Looked after children, Public Care, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, social policy, social work, social care, identity, self-concepts, separation and loss, acculturation, social work practice, qualitative, phenomenological, cultural competence



Research Institute