Att navigera svåra barndomar : Barns perspektiv och narrativa praktiker när vardagen påverkas av vuxnas psykosociala problem

Sammanfattning: Children experiencing family-related adversity have their own stories to tell about themselves and the challenges they face. Qualitative inquiry into children’s personal narratives is important for social work practice and for the pursuit of matching support to children’s needs. While previous research has contributed important knowledge on what children say about experiencing family-related adversity, less attention has been paid to how children handle and make sense of their situation through their telling. The purpose of this thesis is to explore children’s perspectives on how their childhood is affected by adult family members’ psychosocial problems. The primary focus is directed towards children’s narrative project of handling suffering and orienting towards enhanced well-being – albeit in difficult life situations. In connection to this, intergenerational support is studied, with a specific focus on whether the supportive context may have significance for children’s self-narration. Theoretically, the thesis draws upon a childhood sociological perspective on children as social actors within social structures that can either promote or constrain their agency. The thesis also draws upon narrative theory and its focus on the significance of personal and cultural narratives for children’s project of handling and making sense of their situation.   The empirical material comprises 42 interviews with 22 children, aged 6–17 years, and 10 interviews with 10 professionals who have personal experiences of difficult childhoods. Both the children and the professionals were recruited from two Swedish non-governmental organizations offering support to children experiencing family-related adversity, such as a parent’s/other adult family member’s alcohol or drug abuse, mental ill health and/or incarceration.   The findings show that children navigate difficult childhoods through their telling. They need to navigate both relational challenges and problematic cultural narratives about norm and deviance. In the children’s  telling, a number of narrative practices become visible. These practices illustrate various ways in which children negotiate relationships, positions and understandings. Children’s narrative practices can be understood as internal resources that can develop over time, if those children receive adequate support and knowledge. There are also external resources that may help children navigate their childhoods. Here, adults who recognize children as unique individuals  and child-centered supportive contexts stand out as central. Alternative cultural narratives can offer children an expanded repertoire of positions. If these narratives are centered around children’s needs, they may contribute to the children’s project of handling suffering and navigating towards well-being – albeit in difficult life situations.The core contribution of the thesis is an in-depth insight into children’s perspectives and narrative practices when everyday life is affected by adults’ psychosocial problems. It adds to previous research on what children tell by focusing on how children may handle and make sense of the situation through their telling. The thesis shows that children relate to cultural narratives about children and childhood in their telling. This has implications for social work practice because it highlights that organizational perspectives on children may influence how children narrate, and make sense of, themselves and their opportunities.