En extrafamilj för livet? En studie om några ungdomars upplevelse av att vara i en kontaktfamilj
The purpose of this study is to establish how a few youngsters have experienced their time in contact families and which, if any, significance their respective “contact families” has for them today. The study aims to determine the life situation in the youth’s families at the time support through “contact families” was initiated and the youths’ own view of the reasons for this support. We also want to shed light on the meaning that the contact families had on the youth; considering both positive as well as negative meaning. An additional query addresses the extent to which the family members of the contact families had become important on the youths’ existence and the extent to which having stayed with the contact families has still a meaning on the lives of the youth at the time of the study. This is a case study based on a qualitative method where the authors interviewed ten youths varying from 18 to 25 years of age and each of whom had a contact family for a period longer than two years. The theoretical base of the study is provided by the theory of systems, the social constructivist perspective, as well as the salutogenic perspective and the related concepts of resilience and empowerment. The results of the study show that virtually all youth assign great significance to their experience in contact families, and not only for themselves but also for their own families. The study showed that usually single mothers were provided the contact families while fathers were mostly absent from the life of the youths. The youths praised highly their mothers whom they described that, in spite of their problems, fought to care for their families. The mother’s need to rest was the main cause for providing support in the form of contact families. Virtually all the interviewed youths stated that they were pleased to have had access to contact families; they had developed new friends and engaged in activities new to them. Through spending time with contact families the youths acquired additional role models of grown-ups. This enlarged their frame of reference and broadened the range of choice open to them later on in life. At the time of the study most of the youths continued to be in contact with their contact families, which means that they some times meet, or keep in touch through internet or by telephone. The study shows that amongst the interviewed youths the idea of what a family is has been influenced. For some of them the contact family has become the ideal and they wished to live a life similar to that of the contact family. Some other youngsters described that their stay in contact families had provided them with additional concepts of what a family is. They realized that their own family and the contact family often lived different lives but could also see that the life of the contact family was not devoid of problems. This in turn meant that they saw their own families as less problematic. The authors hope that the histories of the interviewed youths will contribute to increase the knowledge and the understanding of contact families amongst social service staff and thus improve their work with them.