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Family troubles?

Family troubles?: Exploring changes and challenges in the family lives of children and young people

Jane Ribbens McCarthy
Carol-Ann Hooper
Val Gillies
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Family troubles?
    Book Description:

    As the everyday family lives of children and young people come to be increasingly defined as matters of public policy and concern, it is important to raise the question of how we can understand the contested terrain between normal family troubles and troubled and troubling families. In this important, timely and thought-provoking publication, a wide range of contributors explore how troubles” feature in “normal families, and how the “normal features in “troubled” families. Drawing on research on a wide range of substantive topics - including infant care, sibling conflict, divorce, disability, illness, migration and asylum-seeking, substance misuse, violence, kinship care, and forced marriage - the contributors aim to promote dialogue between researchers addressing mainstream family change and diversity in everyday lives, and those specialising in specific problems which prompt professional interventions. In tackling these contentious and difficult issues across a variety of topics, the book addresses a wide audience, including policy makers, service users and practitioners, as well as family studies scholars more generally who are interested in issues of family change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4473-0445-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-v)
  3. Notes on contributors
    (pp. vi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Dorit Braun

    This vital new collection provides important research evidence alongside new and fresh concepts about what it means to work with families right across the spectrum — from those we might label ‘ordinary’ to those labelled ‘troubled’. The collection makes a very significant contribution to questioning these labels and the assumptions that underpin the labels, and shows that labelling families and individuals within them might obscure as much as or more than it reveals. The wide variety of issues covered, and the thoughtful nature of all the contributions therefore make this a key text for anyone working with children and families.


  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Troubling normalities and normal family troubles: diversities, experiences and tensions
    (pp. 1-22)
    Jane Ribbens McCarthy, Carol-Ann Hooper and Val Gillies

    In setting out to explore changes and challenges in the family lives of children and young people, and whether and how it may be important, useful and productive to consider such experiences as troubling or troublesome, we started from some basic assumptions for framing our thinking across diverse topics and circumstances. The first is that change is an inescapable feature of life, and these changes will often be highly challenging, although in some circumstances, it may be the absence of change that is troubling. The second is that troubles, conflict and painful experiences are common features of children’s and young...


    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 23-26)
      Jane Ribbens McCarthy

      In this opening section of the book, we set the scene for some fundamental issues for understanding and researching family troubles in the lives of children and young people, and raise some core questions about how we can consider family troubles in the changeable and changing contexts of varying cultures and historical periods. While each of the four introductory chapters takes a particular focus, the issues they raise are also touched upon through other chapters in this section. Thus, in terms of the methodological issues raised by Michael Rutter and Ara Francis concerning the basis of knowledge around family troubles,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Cultural context, families and troubles
      (pp. 27-34)
      Jill Korbin

      The cultural context provides a perspective that is core to understanding families and their troubles. Families around the world vary in the forms that they take, the circumstances in which they live and the troubles that they experience. There is not a single consensus definition of culture, of family or of trouble that offers an opportunity to explore how diversity and variability can contribute to understanding the connections among these phenomena. This chapter will first consider the relationship of the cultural context to understanding families and troubles and will then turn to a consideration of child maltreatment as an illustration...

    • CHAPTER THREE Representing family troubles through the 20th century
      (pp. 35-44)
      Janet Fink

      Histories of family troubles in Britain through the 20th century have been written from a number of different perspectives and have taken a range of conceptual and analytical approaches. Autobiographical and biographical accounts have thrown much light on personal experience (Sage, 2001; Harding, 2006) and the effects of welfare encounters through which families with perceived troubles were identified, regulated or supported (Steedman, 1986). Social histories of family lives have been equally revealing about the ways in which the constitution of ‘normal’ family relationships has shifted over time (Gillis, 1997; Davidoff et al, 1999; Davidoff, 2012). Tracing,inter alia, demographic, economic,...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The role of science in understanding family troubles
      (pp. 45-58)
      Michael Rutter

      The need to give science a central role in understanding family troubles arises from three different, but somewhat related, considerations. First, both the media and political statements, as well as all too many supposedly scientific papers, make all manner of claims about the family that are based on anecdotal reports by unrepresentative samples of volunteers, together with the use of weak, and often biased, measures. It is, therefore, crucial to check these claims through the appropriate application of high-quality science (British Academy Working Group Report, 2010). Second, even when evidence of associations is based on proper sampling and appropriate measurement,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Family troubles, methods trouble: qualitative research and the methodological divide
      (pp. 59-70)
      Ara Francis

      Research in the social sciences is characterised by a healthy fragmentation; scholars operate within multiple paradigms of inquiry that are premised upon different assumptions about the nature of reality and the purposes of scholarship. Guba and Lincoln (1994) identify five orientations to social research and delineate the ontological premises of each. As their work suggests, most traditions can be seen as falling somewhere on an ontological continuum of realism and relativism.¹ On the side of realism, positivism views the social world as operating much like the natural world, according to laws that have predictable, measurable effects and are consistent across...


    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 71-74)
      Val Gillies

      In this part, themes around difference and conformity are brought into focus, highlighting the personal and public struggles framing the construction of family troubles. All five chapters engage to some extent or another with the politics of definition, revealing how understandings are shaped by prevailing normativities as well as private meanings and relationships. In some instances, this involves family members managing the public problematisation of behaviour that might be experienced as commonplace or more or less ordinary. As many of the chapters in this part illustrate, such dissonance can be a core source of trouble for families, provoking feelings of...

    • CHAPTER SIX Disabled parents and normative family life: the obscuring of lived experiences of parents and children within policy and research accounts
      (pp. 75-84)
      Harriet Clarke and Lindsay O’Dell

      This chapter examines understandings of family life where a parent has an impairment or experiences chronic health difficulties. Over the past two decades, the experiences of families that include a disabled parent have become increasingly visible through research, wider awareness-raising activity and policy debate and development. The strands of research and conceptual work in this area (including our separate work, on which we draw here) often centre aroundeitheryoung people with caring responsibilities for a family member,ordisabled adults with dependent children. This is reflective of divisions in academic enquiry (such as ‘childhood studies’ and ‘disability studies’) and...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Normal problems or problem children? Parents and the micro-politics of deviance and disability
      (pp. 85-96)
      Ara Francis

      The research presented here is part of a more comprehensive study of middleclass parents who identify their children as having significant problems, such as learning and developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, and substance addictions. The data are drawn from in-depth interviews with 34 mothers and 21 fathers who are predominantly white and middle-class. Focusing on the processes of problem construction, this chapter examines how parents came to view their children as having significant problems of a particular kind.

      The author’s analysis is informed by a social constructionist perspective that views all problems as emerging in social interaction. This does not imply...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Troubled talk and talk about troubles: moral cultures of infant feeding in professional, policy and parenting discourses
      (pp. 97-106)
      Helen Lomax

      This chapter examines the ways in which policy agendas and contemporary notions of the ‘good mother’ frame infant feeding practices, rendering them a site of moral and interactional trouble. Drawing on analysis of mothers’ talk with midwives during the first days of motherhood, the chapter explores the ways in which breastfeeding confers a positive maternal identity, while choosing not to do so is associated with a deficit identity against which mothers struggle to present themselves as good parents. The chapter suggests that mothers’ interactions with professionals are important places for exploring the ways in which ‘ordinary’ family practices may be...

    • CHAPTER NINE Children’s non-conforming behaviour: personal trouble or public issue?
      (pp. 107-118)
      Geraldine Brady

      In the UK, government policy increasingly seeks to define the meaning of ‘good’ parenting and to link responsible parenting with successful outcomes for children. This is just one of a number of powerful discourses which influence family life. Parents’ perceptions of their child when development or behaviour does not appear to conform to societal norms are influenced by the pervasive discourses of health, normality, childhood and, indeed, parenting. In this chapter, I explore how a subsection of parents makes sense of ‘difference’ in their child in comparison to other children, providing insight into how family troubles, such as children’s challenging...

    • CHAPTER TEN Revealing the lived reality of kinship care through children and young people’s narratives: “It’s not all nice, it’s not all easy-going, it’s a difficult journey to go on”
      (pp. 119-130)
      Karin Cooper

      This chapter examines kinship carers’ own children’s experiences of the kinship care arrangement (also known as family and friends care). The research emanated from the author’s professional role as a kinship social worker and the identified invisibility of kinship carers’ own children within research and social work policy and practice. The research was underpinned by the sociology of childhood and informed by a children’s rights framework, which viewed children as social actors and active participants within the research. The aim of the study was to illuminate the positions and perspectives of kinship carers’ own children through multiple narratives. Illustrative data...


    • Introduction to Part Three
      (pp. 131-134)
      Carol-Ann Hooper

      While the potential for harm to children and young people, sometimes along with other family members, in a range of family troubles is a theme throughout this book, Part Three illuminates some of the complexities of identifying those who are particularly vulnerable. To a large extent, families construct their own version of the normal, and children and young people may be unable to detach sufficiently from the power and significance of the relationships on which they depend to perceive alternatives and name their own experience as harmful (see the chapters by Mannay and Wilson). Whether particular troubling events or experiences...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Troubling loss? Children’s experiences of major disruptions in family life
      (pp. 135-150)
      Lynn Jamieson and Gill Highet

      This article draws on young people’s perspectives on extraordinary changes — the disruption of biographies, families and households — that may be experienced as loss. We take it for granted that young people’s own insights into the constraints and possibilities of adjusting to, recovering from or repairing such disruptions are of intrinsic value and interest. The focus is not on the psychological mechanism involved in mourning (Bagnoli, 2003) or on how the absent are dealt with in memory (Cait, 2008), but, rather, on the interpersonal, systemic and discursive processes involved in deflecting, minimising or amplifying the trouble loss brings. The theoretical starting...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The permeating presence of past domestic and familial violence: “So, like, I’d never let anyone hit me but I’ve hit them, and I shouldn’t have done”
      (pp. 151-162)
      Dawn Mannay

      As de Beauvoir (1949) argues, for women, the future is often haunted by phantoms of the past, which impact upon the present. This chapter draws on one woman’s narrative journey from childhood to motherhood, examining how ‘troubles’ feature in her life in the form of domestic and familial abuse. Specifically, the permeating nature of ‘trouble’ is demonstrated in her ideas of what she might become and what she is afraid of becoming; and while she recognises abuse as a harm to be avoided if possible, and/or repaired, it is also routinely normalised in her account.

      In the Introduction to Part...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Thinking about sociological work on personal and family life in the light of research on young people’s experience of parental substance misuse
      (pp. 163-172)
      Sarah Wilson

      Parental substance misuse (PSM) has been the focus of much applied social policy work in recent years (ACMD, 2003, 2007). It has been estimated that two million young people in the UK are affected by PSM (Manning et al, 2009), with significant implications for social work caseloads. Such circumstances are relatively absent, however, from recent mainstream sociological discussion of personal and family life. Here, partly in response to the pathologisation of family diversity and change in some literature (Beck-Gernsheim, 1998; Bauman, 2003) and in the New Right family policy it has influenced, much work has focused on continuities in ‘ordinary’...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN The trouble with siblings: some psychosocial thoughts about sisters, aggression and femininity
      (pp. 173-184)
      Helen Lucey

      On a recent visit to see my aunt Joan, who was celebrating her 100th birthday, we were talking about one of her younger sisters, Bina, now 98 years old, who had gone to live in a nursing home. “She was always able to make friends easily”, said Joan, “as early as I can remember. I was never like that.” And not for the first time, Joan went on to tell me how Bina, as a newcomer to the single-room rural Irish primary school that the older Joan had spent the previous two years establishing her school friendships in, “breezed in...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Children and family transitions: contact and togetherness
      (pp. 185-194)
      Hayley Davies

      In the global North, the issue of children’s contact with parents following parental separation and divorce has been much discussed as a social, political and legal concern, and as a key site for contemporary family negotiations. The issue draws into focus, both at a societal and family level, the question of who counts as family and kin, the obligations ascribed to parent—child relationships, and, specifically, the expectations of the appropriate frequency and quality of contact time between non-resident parents, usually fathers, and their children (Hogan et al, 2003; Natalier and Hewitt, 2010). Negotiations around contact also take place at...


    • Introduction to Part Four
      (pp. 195-198)
      Jane Ribbens McCarthy

      People have migrated around the globe for centuries, but there are new contexts for such migration in the contemporary world — not least, the advent of telecommunications and air travel, and the rise of women’s migration as part of global care chains (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003; Yeates, 2009) — with variable significance for the family lives of children and young people. In Part Four, issues of family change, transitions and troubles (including ill-health) across different global spaces and cultures are centralised, with chapters focusing on peoples from developing worlds, or the global South (including Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South America), as...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN ‘Troubling’ or ‘ordinary’? Children’s views on migration and intergenerational ethnic identities
      (pp. 199-208)
      Umut Erel

      Migration leads to experiences of discontinuity for families as they make sense of the differing societal circumstances and norms of the societies of origin and residence. Members of the migrant family face the challenge of integrating diverse experiences into a renewed sense of belonging both within the family and the wider society of residence. In the process of migration, family members elaborate new meanings and ways of being a ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, ‘father’, ‘sister’ and so on. The members of migrant families may have diverse linguistic and cultural competences. At times, children may have different notions of ethnic identity from those...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Colombian families dealing with parents’ international migration
      (pp. 209-222)
      Maria Claudia Duque-Páramo

      International parental migration is perceived in diverse and contradictory ways by different family members, whose experiences of what is ‘normal’ and ‘troubling’ are shaped by both local cultural traditions and global social and economic forces. This chapter, based on fieldwork conducted in four cities in Colombia, raises issues about pain as a ‘normal’ experience of families living in circumstances of separation related to migration; both parents and children assume that pain is the normal price they have to pay for succeeding, searching for a better life and economic progress. Yet, there are differences in their narratives: while parents focus on...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Families left behind: unaccompanied young people seeking asylum in the UK
      (pp. 223-232)
      Elaine Chase and June Statham

      Every year, several thousand children and young people arrive in the UK to seek asylum without the care or support of parents or other family members and more such claims are made in the UK than anywhere else in Europe (European Migration Network, 2012). In 2009, for example, 2,990 asylum applications (just over 12% of all those registered in the UK) were from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people claiming to be under the age of 18 (Home Office, 2010). Of these, only 11% were granted asylum, 16% were refused and the remainder (73%) were awarded discretionary leave, mostly until...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Young people’s caring relations and transitions within families affected by HIV
      (pp. 233-244)
      Ruth Evans

      This chapter provides insight into young people’s caring relations and transitions within what is often considered a particularly ‘troubling’ familial context in both the global North and South: living with HIV. I analyse the findings from two qualitative studies of young people’s caring roles in families affected by HIV in the UK, Tanzania and Uganda from the perspective of a feminist ethics of care, emotion work and life course transitions.

      Since the 1990s, research in the global North has documented the roles and responsibilities that children undertake within families and the negative (and sometimes positive) outcomes that caring for a...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Estimating the prevalence of forced marriage in England
      (pp. 245-256)
      Peter Keogh, Anne Kazimirski, Susan Purdon and Ruth Maisey

      A forced marriage (FM) has been defined in the UK as ‘a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor’ (Home Office, 2000, p 4). The Court of Appeal clarified that duress is: ‘whether the mind of the applicant has been overborne, howsoever that was caused’ (Magill and Lee, 2008, p 8). FM is therefore a marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some vulnerable adults, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. FM is...


    • Introduction to Part Five
      (pp. 257-262)
      Carol-Ann Hooper

      Families come into contact with state agencies in a range of contexts — from before their children’s birth and throughout their childhoods — and the impacts of public policy and family members’ interactions with professionals on their troubles have been evident in many chapters. This part brings into focus: the ways families are worked with in different national contexts (see the chapter by Boddy); the potential and limitations of some key current policy developments in Anglophone countries in relation to the growth of parenting education programmes (see the chapter by Churchill and Clarke) and the increased attention to fathers’ roles (see the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE European perspectives on parenting and family support
      (pp. 263-278)
      Janet Boddy

      Support for parents and families has been a key aspect of policy across government departments in most European countries over recent years. The policy drivers for this emphasis also have some commonalities across countries, including concern with agendas of social inclusion (eg Hantrais, 2004). But there are also important differences between countries in the position of parental support relative to wider policy frameworks for children and families, and beyond that, to wider discourses about the rights of parents and children, and the role of the state in family life. For example, what do policymakers and service providers aim to do...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO What supports resilient coping among family members? A systemic practitioner’s perspective
      (pp. 279-290)
      Arlene Vetere

      What helps family members develop shared, supportive and constructive ways of responding to life events, both expected and unexpected? This chapter will explore how their relational and social context supports the development of resilient coping in a family/kin group. Individual definitions of resilience speak of the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and overcome life challenges (Rutter, 1999). Joseph and Linley (2008) write of the potential we as individuals hold for post-traumatic growth. Resilience is not about invulnerability or untested capacity to cope. Interestingly, much of the research on the development of individual resilience posits the importance...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Troubled and troublesome teens: mothers’ and professionals’ understandings of parenting teenagers and teenage troubles
      (pp. 291-304)
      Harriet Churchill and Karen Clarke

      Many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have increased investment in parenting education (Churchill and Clarke, 2010). Focusing on UK developments, this chapter examines the policy and practice aims of one type of provision:group parenting programmes targeted at families with adolescent children. Drawing on the findings of a local programme evaluation, it contrasts policy, programme and service-user concerns about young people, parenting and families. While the discussion highlights the benefits participants gained from taking part in the parenting programme, it illustrates the limited way the programme engaged with and addressed parental concerns and young people’s support needs. These...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Contested family practices and moral reasoning: updating concepts for working with family-related social problems
      (pp. 305-314)
      Hannele Forsberg

      This chapter focuses on complex, ambiguous and ethically charged problem situations with children and families, which it is partly the responsibility of social work to resolve. The focus is mainly on the special challenges that such situations give to professionals, although, in all probability, the problematic situations that are discussed here are much more demanding to the family members involved. The ultimate goal is to discuss the need for developing new conceptual angles to overcome some of the current difficulties with the conventional conceptualisations of ‘family problems’ in the context of social work, particularly from the Finnish perspective. New conceptual...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Working with fathers: risk or resource?
      (pp. 315-326)
      Brid Featherstone

      Policies in relation to child support, contact post-divorce and separation, and the reconciliation of paid work and care responsibilities have emerged in many countries over the last decades, with particular implications for men as fathers. This chapter, however, is concerned with developments that seem a particular feature of Anglophone countries such as the US and the UK from the 1990s onwards (Featherstone, 2009), which have called upon practitioners in a variety of welfare and education services to engage fathers and promote their involvement with children. This project has incorporated social investment and moral underclass discourses and highlighted the role of...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX What is at stake in family troubles? Existential issues and value frameworks
      (pp. 327-354)
      Jane Ribbens McCarthy

      In this chapter, I ask the question of what is at stake in family troubles, and highlight some key themes in responding, including: the moral issues of family living and the care of children; existential issues of shared and variable human experiences of troubles and suffering in relational lives and the challenges these pose, particularly in relation to children; and cultural resources for dealing with such experiences. And I further consider what help is available from philosophers and social scientists for establishing any frameworks or guiding principles that can avoid a nihilistic form of cultural relativism in defining family troubles,...

  12. Index
    (pp. 355-368)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 369-369)