Being settled and unsettled : an IPA study exploring residential social workers' perceptions of relationships with young people in one children's home

  • Christine Mullan-Jensen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The inner experience of residential carers receives little attention in research despite the fact that these professionals share the life space of children in residential care. This study rectifies such a gap by focusing on residential social workers' perceptions of relationships with the children in their care within a number of enabling and constraining psycho-social factors. It adopts a detailed case study of seven residential social workers in one children’s home in Northern Ireland. An innovative refinement of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis is used to gain richly descriptive accounts through initial interviews, a focus group and follow-up interviews. An original approach to reflexivity and auditing is applied in the study to create transparency throughout the entire process. The findings capture the emotional and cognitive complexity of the phenomenological experience of these relationships within settling and unsettling cycles. At an interpretative level, the study situates the experience of relationships within Layder’s theory of multiple social domains stretched across power, time and space. It adapts Senninger’s social pedagogical theory of learning zones to conceptualise cycles of movement between settling into a comfort zone, taking risks into a learning zone and unsettling into a panic zone. The study concludes with a discussion of the implications and consequences for relationships in residential care. It argues that the emotional and learning needs of residential social workers should be met, by creating time and space for relationships, replenishment and reflection.
Date of AwardJul 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorStanley Houston (Supervisor)

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