Positionality and Reflexivity: Conducting Qualitative Interviews with Parents who Adopt Children from Foster Care

Who we are matters. In research, when the interviewer meets their participants, both parties make judgements about each other which impact on what happens and what is said in the interview. To pretend that the interviewer is neutral or objective is wrong. We all have our own past experiences and biases that we bring to research. Through honesty and reflection about the identities of both the researcher and the researched, the interaction of these in the interview setting, and how interview data is later interpreted, we can add quality to the work that is produced.

In my chapter, which focuses on qualitative interviewing as a tool in research, I reflect on my experience of interviewing adoptive parents of care experienced children, and reflect on the research process. The chapter begins by briefly outlining some important historical and recent developments in adoption in Wales. In its current context, the majority of children adopted in Wales have been removed from their birth families, often due to experiences of adversity in their families of origin.

The chapter goes on to consider what motivated the parents in my study to consider adopting a child, and specifically explores the thought-processes of parents who adopted older children from care*. For many (although not all), decisions were linked to experiences of non-voluntary childlessness, which, in several cases was due to infertility or experiences of multiple miscarriages. In light of this, the chapter goes on to consider how the interviews may have been impacted by the fact that I was between 14 and 30 weeks pregnant when I interviewed my participants.

Both similarities and differences between researcher and participant impact on what is disclosed at interview. Perceived points of difference can result in closed down responses from interviewees. In many ways, I was similar to the majority of my participants, as a white, educated, middle class, professional person. However, my visibly pregnant body highlighted an important difference between myself and several of the interviewees.

I approached this cautiously. I did not want to appear insensitive by quizzing participants about their motivations to adopt, whilst I was obviously pregnant. I was therefore careful about how I presented myself at interview, choosing my clothes carefully to hide my pregnant form as much as possible, although this became increasingly difficult as time went on. I also managed by body language. Pregnant women often frequently touch their bump, and I was mindful not to do this.

My desire for sensitivity to participants leaked into my own everyday experience of pregnancy. I felt enormous guilt about having been able to conceive a child easily whilst feeling ambivalent about the prospect of parenthood. This was a sharp contrast to my participants, who had been highly motivated to become parents. I also reacted irritably to my own friends and family members who commented on my growing bump, as I was so keen to keep this hidden.

Although these negative emotional responses to the research were unwelcome, it is important to consider that conducting research often provokes emotional responses in the researcher. This is a part of the research process. Again, through reflecting on this and taking time to understand how emotions impact on interview data and how it is later interpreted, the researcher can add quality to their work.  

*Older children were defined in my study as children who were aged four or over when they were placed with their adoptive families.