A Study of Care Leavers Lived Experiences of Social Orphanhood in Latvia

  • Zoë Kessler

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Social Work


    This study set out to investigate social orphanhood through narratives of young people with experiences of growing up in care in Latvia. The study uses the life histories of participants to explore the phenomenon of social orphans. To date, narratives about the lived experiences of social orphans in Latvia have been told in the third person as most studies have used methodologies that kept participants passive rather than active. In this study the research process chronicled 19 care leavers' life experiences in detailing three main life phases: 1.) Prior to living in care; 2.) During care; 3.) Life after care. The researcher engaged in several approaches in creating meaning out of the narratives. The first strategy was reporting the contextual life story of the participant in their own words. The second was ‘collaboration’ where there was agreement by each participant on the content of the narrative and critical events were further agreed on and developed using information from the transcribed data. The third was tracing acts of resistance using the participant’s stories. The fourth was a thematic analysis and an inclusion of artwork and writing that was completed by the participants to express their journeys. Participants' experiences revealed some commonalities: factors that preceded children entering care, occurrences from care and life trajectories post-care. The findings also supported a deconstructing of stereotypes and dominant assumptions about orphanage care and provides alternative narratives to what it means to grow up as a social orphan in Latvia. Notable were the strategies of self-reliance and resistance to adversity, as well as a preference for group care and a summation of what care leavers would like from professionals during care. Recommendations for policy and practice are introduced, these emerged from the study findings and the positioning of the participants as ‘knowers of their experience.’ This rich knowledge base can be used to support and inform practice of children moving through the care system in Latvia as well as in other contexts.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMark Smith (Supervisor) & Susan Levy (Supervisor)


    • Social orphan
    • Care leavers
    • Life History
    • Narratives
    • Latvia

    Cite this