From Children of the Garbage Bins to Citizens : A reflexive ethnographic study on the care of “street children”

Abstract: The aim of the study on which this thesis is based was to gain an understanding of the life situation of street children in Kenya and to investigate how caring institutions care for these children.  A reflexive ethnographic approach was used to facilitate entry into the children’s sub-culture and the work contexts of the caregivers to better understand how the children live on the streets and how the caregivers work with the children. A fundamental aim of the research was to develop interventions to care; one of the reasons why we also used the interpretive description approach. Method and data source triangulation was used. Field notes, tape, video, and photography were used to record the data.  Participant observation, group discussions, individual interviews, home visits, key informant interviews, participatory workshops and clinical findings were used for data collection in Studies I and II.  In addition to observation, interviews were conducted with caregivers for study III, while written narratives from learners attending adult education developed and implemented during the research period provided data for study IV.  Study I indicated that food, shelter and education were the main concerns for the children and that they had strong social bonds and used support networks as a survival strategy.  Study II provided a deeper understanding of the street culture, revealing how the boys are organised, patterns of substance use, home spaces in the streets and networks of support. The boys indicated that they wanted to leave the streets but opposed being moved to existing institutions of care. A group home was therefore developed in collaboration with members of the category “begging boys”.  Study III indicated how the caregivers’ interactions with the children were crucial in children’s decisions to leave the streets, to be initiated into residential care, undergo rehabilitation and to be reintegrated into society.  Caregivers who attempted to use participatory approaches and took time to establish rapport were more successful with the children.  Study IV suggested that the composition of learners, course content grounded on research, caregivers’ reflections and discursive role of researchers and facilitators, all contributed to adult learning that transformed the learners’ perspectives and practice.