This dissertation focuses on how perceptions of ethnicity and culture become meaningful in relation to the transition from care into independent living, studied from unaccompanied youths’, professionals’, and a methodological perspective. The findings from interviews with unaccompanied youth with experience of leaving care showed that thoughts about their ethnic minority background are constantly present in the young men’s lives. Their stories about preparing to leave care show a continuous attempt to make adjustments in order to fit into the Swedish society (Study I). The results based on interviews with professionals and observations at two residential care units indicated that ‘home’ is sometimes used as a metaphor when describing the residential care units. The home metaphor affected the staff in ways that it sometimes became difficult to separate private and professional matters. The clash between the residential care unit and the desire to create a home environment highlights the issue that programs executed in Sweden for unaccompanied young people were originally not made for them (Study II). Study III emphasised how transnational relationships form the unaccompanied youths view of past, present, and future time. This study highlighted the importance of how the professionals need to understand the unaccompanied children and youth and their situation as flexible (Study III). Finally, methodological reflections about research concerning ethnicity indicated the importance of reflecting on one’s own perceptions, the role as a researcher, and the benefits and limitations these different roles may have in the research process (Study IV).
The research was conducted using qualitative methods. The data collection methods entailed interviews with the youth (Study I), individual interviews, focus-groups, and observations with professionals (Study II and III), and discussions based on the data collected for study I-III (Study IV). Altogether, 11 youths (18-22 years) and about 20 professionals at the residential care units participated in the studies.
Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the individual interviews and the focus-groups. All interviews were transcribed verbatim for analysis. The empirical data from observations consisted of notes taken during everyday situations, as well as from short conversations with the professionals. The notes were analysed using qualitative content analysis. The combined results of study I-III were used as empirical data for the analysis in study IV.
This dissertation shows that (re)constructing a home is a central part of the care-leaving process for a migrant about to resettle in a new country. The greatest challenge the unaccompanied youth have to conquer during the transition from care to independent living is to fight against exclusion. The main purpose in (re)constructing a home appears to be the same for the youth and the professionals, namely, to reach a sense of safety and belonging. However, different conditions and points of departure may make it hard to agree on details such as what the meaning of belonging actually is, and if it is possible to develop a tailor-made solution. Researching issues of ethnicity comes with the responsibility to avoid reinforcing an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and, in so doing, reinforce stereotypes.