Objects and belonging

Charlie on my gaming chair. Penfold
Charlie on my gaming chair. Penfold

The importance of ‘transitional objects’ has long been recognised in social work practices such as ‘memory boxes’ and ‘life story work’. Our questions around ‘important objects’ produced a wide variety of responses. Teddies and other soft toys were often identified as important, even by older respondents, as someone to talk to and as sources of cuddles and familiar smells. They were also important visual mementoes of significant people, as were many other objects including photos (of birth family members, former foster carers, siblings), guitars, a family tartan, scraps of wallpaper and several (sometimes broken) clocks. Tiger had few things from before his placement but had taken up his ‘adoptive’ brother’s hobby of collecting animal ornaments:

I just like lions, I like big cats as well, ..all animals really.

Participants’ histories of moving between numerous placements over time, or between points in a network of places, made objects- which could be moved
– especially important. Reggie didn’t even like to have too many things:

I think it’s partly to do with the moveability.. Having too much just slows you down.

His tattoos which he saw as permanent, visual representations of his life story can be seen as the ultimate portable object.

Many objects identified initially seemed less personal; however the importance of often multi-functional technologies (mobile phones, computers) became clear. Computer games were often used to calm down and to socialise (often over the net). As Penfold (14, foster care) explained:

you don’t need to think of anything that’s  worrying you, just get on Xbox and it’ll calm you down… I play people from China, people from America.

Mobile phones allowed contact with siblings living elsewhere but also stored photos. Toni (16, part time foster care) emphasised that her phone allowed her to carry family photos around with her as she moved between foster care and home each week. Access to TV programmes, youtube, music and books, was also important.

Five respondents were passionate readers, using books as a means to escape or as a way of processing experiences through empathy with the fictional characters. One girl (13) in foster care emphasised:

I was always thick … I couldn’t read for anything until I was nine, and.. I got given this book by .. my therapist.. and I was like .. ,‘wow I want more’, so I ended up getting addicted.. I felt like I was so there ..part of the family and I knew it all..they have to move away cause the dad’s abusive and that happened to us.

Books offer a means of escape

Similarly, music was very important to most participants as a source of encouragement, to cheer themselves up and blank out upsetting thoughts, but also to explore complex experiences or feelings.