Intimacy among relative strangers: Practices of touch and bodily care in new foster care relationships

Stine Tankred Luckow - The Sociological Review


When children move into a new foster care family, they and the foster carers are initially strangers to one another. Without knowing one another’s history, experiences and practices, foster carers and children are expected to get settled quite quickly in the intimate setting that makes up family life. In these early days of a new placement, bodily intimacy is brought to the forefront; how the foster carers manage bodily care and go about touch without any ‘embodied knowledge’ of the child. This study draws on in-depth interviews with eight foster care couples and explores how foster carers construct practices around bodily care and touch in new foster care relationships. Findings of the study showed that in some cases (babies) the foster carers felt it was ‘natural’ and relatively straightforward to care for the child in an intimate and bodily sense. However, most often the foster carers experienced that either they or the children had felt discomfort, often lead by a lack of embodied knowledge and around reading and understanding one another’s bodily signals. The study emphasizes how children’s prior trajectories around negative, positive or absent touch are imperative for the dynamics of bodily care practices in new foster care relationships. Children may express their embodied experiences very differently, and foster carers, also having embodied biographies, can enact bodily practices in a more or less negotiable manner, adjusted to the child.