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Foster-care children and connected families : Toward a socio-legal approach of digital correspondence within the family

Émilie Potin, Gaël Henaff, Hélène Trellu, François Sorin

Research Framework : Socio-digital practices encourage in many ways various patterns of family ties, especially during events such as placement or changes in living areas (Pharabod, 2004). They stimulate a relationship distanced by the geographical remoteness by means of different digital devices. Therefore, we aim to explore the patterns of digital family correspondence under the light of placement cases and to observe the way the family links are built.

Methodology : The survey and the in-field work have been built on two complementary lines : 1/ identify the means of digital family correspondence through semi-directive interviews with 18 children aged from 14 to 18 and 6 parents, 2/ understand the logic of regulation within the strict frame of the protective measure through interviews with 75 professionals : family assistant, ASE referents, educators, ASE managers and judges specialised in children protection.

Objectives : Within the frame of placement (art. 375 of the French civil code), the child protection rules provide family links accommodations without considering socio-digital uses. The point is to observe how the family members are taking control of this under-ruled space to strengthen their relations or, on the opposite, to maintain a certain distance. From a socio-legal point of view, socio-digital uses will be put into perspective with the rights and duties of the family, from the child to his parents.

Results : Our research highlights the ways of negotiation taking place within the emotional and moral dealings with « polymedia » (Madianou, 2014), building or moving spaces of autonomy and family roles. It also reveals different kinds of relationships in the siblings and in the family, with regards to the experiences of the family members during the placement measure.

Conclusions : Without foreseeing the intensity of the established relationships socio-digital media contribute to maintaining family ties. The way of maintaining these distant relationships depend on shared experiences, placement experiments, and afferent stages. It is also the product of negotiated choices to maintain the links or, on the contrary, to loosen it.

Contribution : This paper is based on the data collected during two research programs : exploratory research supported by the GIS M@arsouin (2014-2015) and the Pl@cement research supported by the Observatoire National de la Protection de l’Enfance and by the Mission de recherche Droit et Justice (2016- 2018).