I am an Italian PhD student at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento, visiting Cardiff University and CASCADE for a few months. In this blog I will tell you something about my PhD related to care experienced parenting and I would like to start by telling you something about my country, and why I decided to do research on this topic.
Before starting my academic career, I worked in the child protection system, mainly dealing with care leavers and participation. It was by working with the association Agevolando1, the first (and only) Italian association of care leavers, that I got to know the stories of many out-of-home children. In Italy, there were 27.608 out-of-home children at the end of 2019, with a similar distribution among the types of care: 13.555 in foster care and 14.053 in residential care2. Unfortunately, not much is known about care leavers. The most extensive research on this topic (involving 400 care leavers) was published this year3, and, among other issues, it highlighted the scarce support for the transition phase from CPS. In fact, there are no leaving care pathways as in the UK, although there is increasing attention to the challenges faced by care leavers4. Thanks to the advocacy work of many organisations and care leavers5, an experimental policy6 has been in place for a few years, and we hope it will become a stable social policy (Pandolfi et. al. 2020).
I have also met many care experienced parents over the years, often very young, and wondered how they were doing, whether they needed any support, how they lived their parenthood in general. These reflections formed the background to the construction of my doctoral project, also thanks to the support of my supervisor, Professor Silvia Fargion. The overall aim of my study (funded by the Ministry of University and Research in the PRIN 2017 programme) is to investigate the relationship between family problems encountered in childhood and the assumption of a parental role. I intend to consider both risk factors and strategies connected with the interruption of the intergenerational transmission of deprivation, maltreatment and disadvantage (Putnam et al. 2015), and the perspectives of their parental role as care-experienced adults. As the aim of the research is to better understand how to break the cycle of deprivation, I will involve parents who, at the time of my research, do not present explicit signs of reproduction of the maltreatment they have experienced. I intend to both contribute to the theoretical debate about cycles of maltreatment and study what can be done to prevent parents from reproducing what occurred to them. Social services can play a key role in preventing the reproduction of maltreatment across generations: I aim to understand what their contribution can be in implementing practices and policies that support care-experienced parents (Ruch & Julkunen, 2006).
Encountering the work of Professor Louise Roberts and her research group on care experienced parenting7 has been very significant for me, as it has given me a better understanding of the challenges faced by these parents and what the role of corporate parenting can be. The main results of this research are summarised in this short and effective video:
Another aspect that I think is very interesting for my work concerns the space for parents’ involvement in the research. I think this is an important methodological challenge for those who deal with these issues because it is important to consider how emphases on problematic issues may have an impact on the social construction of these situations (Munro, 2019). Therefore, I believe there is a need to better understand the agency of these parents, by providing space for narratives that unveil the labelling processes to challenge discriminations and identity prisons made of negative characteristics (Juhila, 2004). It is relevant that the whole research process was accompanied by an advisory board of care experienced parents, supported by Dr Rachael Vaughan. This work also led to the construction of a Good Practice Charter9 co-produced with care experienced parents and benefited from extensive consultation with professionals from both the legal and third sectors. This charter highlights the support that should be available to young people before and after they become parents and I hope it can be disseminated also in the Italian context.
I would like to conclude with this artwork from the care leavers’ museum10 which I consider very significant for my work.
To be a mother, is so feel the pain of not being mothered.
To not be with my child, brings a storm of emotions.
How could you not choose us over drugs?
Them I remember, you used them to cover your pain of not being mothered.
I BREAK THIS CYCLE.
I am a mother.
(C. – UK – 2019)
Blog by Diletta Mauri
Juhila, K. (2004). Talking Back to Stigmatized Identities: Negotiation of Culturally Dominant Categorizations in Interviews with Shelter Residents. Qualitative Social Work, 3(3): 259–275.
Munro, E., & Hardie, J. (2019). Why We Should Stop Talking About Objectivity and Subjectivity in Social Work. British Journal of Social Work, 49(2): 411–427.
Pandolfi, L., Ciampa, A., Bianchi, D., & Fagnini, L. degl’Innocenti, S. (2020). Progettazione e valutazione di interventi sperimentali per l’accompagnamento all’autonomia dei care leavers. Form@re, 20(2).
Putnam-Hornstein, E., Cederbaum, J. A., King, B., Eastman, A. L., & Trickett, P. K. (2015). A population-level and longitudinal study of adolescent mothers and intergenerational maltreatment. American Journal of Epidemiology, 181(7): 496–503.
Roberts, L. (2021). The Children of Looked After Children: Outcomes, Experiences and Ensuring Meaningful Support to Young Parents In and Leaving Care. Bristol University Press.
Ruch, G., Julkunen, I. (2006). Relationship-Based Research in Social Work: Understanding Practice Research. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.