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“IN ITS COMPLEXITY IT’S WORK, IN ITS SOUL IT’S FAMILY”: PROFESSIONALIZATION OF FOSTER PARENTING IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIA

Zhanna Chernova a (E-mail: zhchernova@hse.ru)

Meri Kulmala b

a Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, Russia

b Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland

Citation: Chernova Zh., Kulmala M. (2018) “Po slozhnosti — eto rabota, po sostoyaniyu dushi — sem'ya”: professionalizatsiya priyemnogo roditel'stva v sovremennoy Rossii [“In its complexity it’s work, in its soul it’s family”: professionalization of foster parenting in contemporary Russia]. Zhurnal sotsiologii i sotsialnoy antropologii [The Journal of Sociology and Social Anthropology], 21(3): 46–70 (in Russian). https://doi.org/10.31119/jssa.2018.21.3.3

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Abstract. This article is a sociological investigation of the concept of care, particularly in terms of professionalization of (parental) care. The aim of the article is to analyze how foster parents who live in children's villages make sense of their parenting activities for themselves. Sociological conceptualization of care serve as the theoretical framework for our research, which allows us to answer questions, such as: what is care as an activity; who is supposed to provide mundane care; what is the locus of care; what kind of an institutional logic and cultural models of justification it is connected with. Our analysis is based on the empirical research in five children’s villages in which we conducted focus groups with foster parents living in those children's villages (family campuses) and three semi-structured thematic interviews with foster parents which all were recorded and transcribed.

Due to ”deficit of care”, a problem characteristic to modern societies, there is growing interest in sociological analysis of care. The global trend towards professionalization of care in general and professionalization of parenting in particular makes it possible to consider care as a particular kind of activity, which requires special skills and knowledge from the performer of care activity. This activity is beyond the private sphere and it can be performed by a number of actors: family, the state, the market and/or the third sector. Foster parenting is a good example of how the global trend of the professionalization of care is applied in a local context under the conditions structured by the deinstitutionalization policy of care for children left without parental care and by the particular environment of living, namely a children's village.

The children's village — collective living of foster families — is understood in this article as a particular regime of care, which consists of the following elements of care: ideals of care, its institutional setting and concrete caring practices. Children's villages are a form of long-term upbringing of children left without parental care orphans. This particular form is based on the ideal of care in family opposed to institutionalized form of care (orphanage).

The key difference of a children's village from other forms of care for this category of children is its very special spatial locus and social structure, intensive presence of foster parent community and special features related to foster parents themselves (such as the length of experience in foster parenting and in raising such children that face difficulties to be place in “ordinary” foster families, specialization of caring certain categories of children).

The studied foster parents problematize the performed care by perceiving their activity through a tension which can be viewed as a love-work dichotomy. Their understanding of caring as love over the foster children in their families can be categorized as moral conducts and mission calling. These leads to a certain system of interpretations over foster parenting and the logic of practicing parenthood and concrete parenting practices. The professionalization of foster parenting is perceived as formalization and increasing bureaucratic control and thus as a loss of autonomy of a family. Understanding of care over foster children as work in turn allows foster parents to rationalize their activities and to question the official status of a foster parent in Russian society. Professionalization of foster parenting serves as a way to address a number of problems that parents face, attitude changes toward fostering and increasing the status of care in general.

Keywords: foster parenting, professionalization, care, care regime, deinstitualization

 

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