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Title: Exploring the meaning and impact of the suicides of young residential care-leavers, from the perspectives of those who worked and lived alongside them in residential child care
Author(s): Furnivall, Judith
Supervisor(s): Emond, Ruth
Keywords: care-leaver
disenfranchised grief
looked after children
children in care
premature death
Issue Date: Jun-2023
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: The suicide of care-experienced young people and its impact has only recently attracted public and academic concern. This qualitative study is the first to explore the meaning and impact of suicides of care-experienced young people from the perspective of those close to them. Nineteen in-depth interviews were undertaken with people close to young care-leavers who died by suicide. My position as an ‘insider’ in the residential care system with personal experience of such a suicide required a rigorously reflexive approach. Thematic analysis of the data suggested similarities and differences to other reported findings. Participants experienced overwhelming and enduring distress, but their grief was devalued and disenfranchised. This thesis argues that the intersection between a stigmatising death (suicide) and a stigmatised group (those with care experience) contributed to this. It also highlights how assumptions about appropriate professionalism and mistrust of relationships between young people negatively affected the recognition and expression of grief. Traditional mourning rituals rarely brought comfort to participants, and many expressed a desire for commemorations that acknowledged young people’s care identities and relationships. Although participants pointed to young people’s difficult individual stories, they also identified problematic societal, systemic, and professional factors that they believed underlay the deaths. These included systematic disruption of relationships, failure to address trauma whilst children are in care, flawed decision making and inadequate support during and after transitions as well as the negative discourse around residential care that eroded hope and left young people feeling trapped. Most participants were committed to fighting for change in the system to help them find significance in the deaths. Changes in policy and practice were suggested that might reduce the experience of disenfranchised grief as well as systemic and professional changes that could increase care-leavers’ sense of belonging and contribute to safe and connected transitions from care.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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