Placement instability and its psychological shifts: the centrality of adolescent girls’ sense of agency

Sophie Hébert, Researcher, Centre jeunesse de Montréal, CANADA

Nadine Lanctôt, Researcher, Université de Sherbrooke, CANADA 

Mathilde Turcotte, Researcher, Université Laval, CANADA

A considerable proportion of all children placed outside the home experience unstable placement patterns. From the perspective of child well-being, it is important to understand the psychological shifts experienced by foster children who are following an unstable placement pattern (Unrau et al., 2010; Tremblay et al., 2016).  Psychological shifts represent the cognitive and emotional reactions to placement instability that accompany the physical changes in placement settings. These reactions include feelings of uncertainty, distress, and fear (Unrau et al., 2010). To date, however, the psychological shifts associated with placement instability have received very little attention in the scientific literature. In the present study, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 young women who had spent time in out-of-home placements as adolescents. Our findings show that the kinds of psychological shifts that these young women had undergone as a result of placement instability depended on how they had perceived that instability, and that in this perception, their sense of their own agency was central. Instability that was imposed on girls by external forces, and instability that girls’ induced by there own actions all resulted in different kinds of psychological shifts. These findings are discussed in light of the empowerment.

Key-words: Placement, instability, psychological shift, sense of agency

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