Self-reported sources of social support : comparing young people with foster and residential care experiences to their non-care peers
The aim of this thesis is to compare sources of social support reported by young people in care with those reported by young people in the general population. The stressor specific model of social support (Wilcox and Vernberg 1985) is used in this explorative and descriptive study. The Social Support Measure for Adolescents was devised to examine young people's reported sources of support to particular stressors. The measure was examined for validity and reliability, using cluster analysis on 100 young people in the general population, and the test-retest method on a sample of 62 students. Fifty young people in care were interviewed using the SSMA, while 100 young people in the comparison group filled in the questionnaire. Furthermore, a subset of 15 young people with care experiences were followed up three to six months after the first interview. Demographical data was obtained from both samples relating to living arrangements, education, employment and social relationships. In addition, young people in care were asked about their care histories and reasons for entry into care. Statistical analyses revealed marked differences in reported sources of support, with young people in care mentioning more numerous, and more different sources, while the young people in the comparison group consistently mentioned members of their affiliative network: parents and friends. The findings suggest that only the young people in care report using particular support sources for specific stressors, supporting the stressor specific model. Furthermore, friendships are viewed differently in the two groups, with the in-care group reporting fewer sharing and reciprocal friendships. Conclusions are presented, highlighting that relationship development in the in-care group differed from the comparison group, as the young people in the comparison group embedded their support needs within their emotional relationships, while the in-care group relied on less intimate, more pragmatic sources. Gaps in the research on social support and on adolescence are discussed. Finally, some policy and practice implications of the findings are presented.