Negotiating Citizenship Practices: Expressions of citizenship in the lives of youth-in-care in Greater Victoria




Butler, Kate

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Expressions of youth citizenship are evident in young people’s actions, behaviours, and embodied experiences. Young people in late (post) modernity occupy a liminal position when it comes to citizenship. On the one hand, they are conceived of as rights-bearers with particular responsibilities to themselves and others; at the same time, they are presumed to belong to a family unit that will take care of their major interests. Young people with government care experience (henceforth referred to as “youth-in-care”) practice citizenship at an intersection of private and public in their lives as wards of the state. They are expected to belong to foster families of some sort, even though this kind of living situation is often temporary, fragmented, and unsettling. In an era of self-responsibility and rights claims, being unmoored from traditional family life illustrates some of the inherent tensions of practicing citizenship. While youth citizenship literature has proliferated in the last two decades, the focus has often been on rights and responsibilities, rather than the differences in citizenship practices amongst youth themselves. Expressions of citizenship by youth-in-care are contextualized by internal and external factors that shape these young people’s lives. Furthermore, the history, politics, cultural difficulties and social implications of child protection systems have received much attention from academics and policy-makers, but research on youth-in-care as citizens remains rare. This dissertation explores the gap in the literature by looking at the ways that citizenship is complex, multilayered, and fluid for this group of young people. A qualitative research design is used to examine how youth-in-care practice citizenship in their daily lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants between the ages of 14-24 in Greater Victoria, all of whom had been in government care at some point in their lives (n= 20). Transcripts were coded using an analytical hierarchy strategy. Findings indicate that the social group in question – youth-in-care – practiced citizenship in a multitude of ways, and that it was important to take situational or social context into consideration when examining how they expressed citizenship. Analysis of participants’ narratives revealed three types of citizenship practices, namely self-responsible citizenship, dissenting citizenship and reluctant citizenship. Expressions of citizenship were navigated through experiences of self-responsibility and rights, belonging and exclusion, and risk and resilience. Citizenship, therefore, is best understood through behaviour and actions, as well as enacted and embodied by participants themselves. For youth-in-care, citizenship practices matter in their relationships with others, the ways they experience belonging and exclusion, and the discourses of resiliency and vulnerability which emerge from their narratives. The dissertation concludes with a consideration of the implications of the findings for the literature on youth citizenship, focusing on the ways that youth citizenship is contextualized by experiences with family, peers, institutions, and the government care system.



foster care, British Columbia child welfare, youth citizenship, children's rights