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01-04-2012 | Original Paper | Uitgave 2/2012

Journal of Child and Family Studies 2/2012

Maltreated Children’s Social Understanding and Empathy: A Preliminary Exploration of Foster Carers’ Perspectives

Journal of Child and Family Studies > Uitgave 2/2012
Nikki Luke, Robin Banerjee


Previous research suggests that parental abuse and neglect can have adverse effects on children’s peer relationships and self-perceptions. Emerging theoretical and empirical work suggests that children’s social understanding and empathy could play a key role as mediators of these effects, but we have little knowledge about the viability of such a model in explaining the everyday experiences of children in care. Thus, in order to gain an in-depth insight into the potentiality of this conceptual model, a focus group and detailed semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with a total of 10 foster carers. First, a thematic analysis revealed that problematic self-perceptions and peer relationships were indeed commonplace. Crucially, in line with our theoretical model, carers readily identified children’s difficulties with social understanding and empathy as relevant explanations for their socio-emotional problems. Carers reported using a variety of strategies to help children, but expressed a need for a clearer training package of practical strategies that could be used to encourage social understanding and empathy in children, with the aim of improving their social relationships.

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