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The Use of Social Digital Technologies by Parents of Children in Care : A Way to Maintain Links and Tools of Resistances

Caroline Maupas

Research Framework: The National Observatory of Child Protection in France indicates that on average, 284 000 children benefit each year from a child protection measure as a result of mistreatment or neglect within the family. About half of these measures result in the removal of the children who are taken into a children’s home or a remunerated foster family. The research presented here was initially centred on interactions between the parents whose children had been taken from and the professionals involved in child protection. We quickly noticed the preponderant place of social digital technologies and tried to understand their use.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to contribute to both the sociology of digital use and the sociology of family ties by highlighting how the social digital technologies can be used to strengthen familial links in this specific vulnerability context.

Methodology: As part of a PhD in sociology, we used an ethnographic approach composed of fourteen months of immersion into four children’s protection services in the north of France, completed by fifty-three in-depth interviews.

Results: The parents of children placed in care are using social digital technologies in order to maintain links with their children. In fact, it allows them to experiment with different kinds of interactions, to keep a record of their exchanges and also to act out their daily life. These technologies are also used as tools of resistance: they facilitate bending institutional rules, they help maintain the role of parents and they provide them with an opportunity to assert themselves and help each other.

Conclusions: Whereas social digital technologies are still often thought of as obstacles to family life, this article would like to enrich the contributions that show they can also transform family life, even reinforce it.

Contribution: In fine, we show that social digital technologies are proving to be interesting tools and that they are likely to reconfigure an experience of vulnerability.