Constructions of children's needs in informal kinship care in rural China

Hu, Yang (2013) Constructions of children's needs in informal kinship care in rural China. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Kinship care is the oldest form of alternative child care in the world. Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of children being placed in kinship care across Western countries. However, in contrast to rapid knowledge advances about formal kinship care, far less is known about the needs of children in informal kinship care, especially in Asian contexts. This thesis and the study upon which it is formed sought to redress this knowledge gap. Qualitative approach was adopted to explore social constructions of children in informal kinship care in rural China.

Parents in China seeking work in cities have left behind around 58 million rural children, mostly with relatives and without the involvement of the state. The present study examined caregivers’ and school personnel’s understandings of these school-age children’s needs through semi-structured interviews with 23 kin caregivers and five school personnel in Shijiapu Town, Jilin Province, China. The central question that guided the whole study is: What are the needs of children in informal kinship care in rural Jilin Province, China? Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to categorise and interpret the qualitative data. Based on participants’ constructions, this study developed a need model with eight themes. They are: (1) emotional needs and mental health, (2) relationships, (3) empowerment and agency, (4) safety, (5) education, (6) basic care, (7) physical health, and (8) personal development. These needs are grounded in the Chinese context, and therefore a good understanding of Chinese culture is essential to address them. The first four needs particularly capture children’s separations from their parents, and the rest are more general, and can be applied to most Chinese children. To meet the most important need for children left behind, namely education, these caregivers determined that others needs sometimes have to be compromised.

Children left behind are a vulnerable group in contemporary rural China, and their diverse needs are attended to by several groups. This study found that as children’s closest kin while their parents are away, caregivers play a vital role in salving the children’s emotional loss. Caregivers’ love and familial obligations strongly motivate them to care for these children, and sensitivity to social stigma makes them strive to show their love and care to compensate for perceived differences between these children and their peers. Caregivers’ efforts to make children happy, however, were sometimes criticised by some school personnel, who see this as spoiling. The conflicting viewpoint between caregivers and school personnel indicate their different roles and perceptions in children’s lives, and the latter influence these children in a more authoritative way.

Informal kinship care has several advantages of addressing children’s needs, especially their needs for emotional bonds with family. Community-based kin networks provide children with both emotional and material support. However, these advantages sometimes are restricted by caregivers’ child rearing capacity. Having developed a model of the needs of children left behind in China, this study suggests that caregivers, school personnel and government social services work in harmony to be child-centred and meet these children’s diverse needs. The unmet needs of children left behind mainly result from unbalanced development between urban and rural China, therefore, it is imperative to enhance state policies and programs that improve wellbeing for this growing part of China’s people.

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ID Code: 61885
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lonne, Bob & Burton, Judith
Keywords: children’s needs, children left behind, kinship care, rural China, caregivers, school personnel, alternative care, children in care
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 16 Aug 2013 06:56
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015 02:41

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