Book Chapter

Mental Health of Looked-After Children: Embodiment and Use of Space



Callaghan JEM, Fellin LC & Alexander JH (2016) Mental Health of Looked-After Children: Embodiment and Use of Space. In: Evans B, Horton J & Skelton T (eds.) Geographies of Children and Young People: Play, Recreation, Health and Well Being. Geographies of Children and Young People, 9. Singapore: Springer, pp. 561-580.

Much psychological language uses metaphors of space and place to conceptualize human experience. In everyday conversation, people talk about needing “space to think” or “putting some distance” between our self and someone we find difficult. In psychotherapy, much emphasis is placed on the psychic geography of the “therapeutic space,” for instance, talk about maintaining boundaries, providing containment. Psychologists and psychotherapists use topographical models to envision psychological processes – like “levels of consciousness” (the conscious and the unconscious) – and use the language of movement and distance to make sense of our relationalities. And yet, psychologists and other mental health professionals have been surprisingly resistant to theorizing the importance of space and place in children’s daily lives and its implications for their mental health and well-being. This is particularly notable in research focused on children who are looked after away from home, where work on mental health has focused very strongly on the impact of being looked after on inner experiences of mental health and well-being, individualizing and pathologizing young people’s lives, but neglecting the importance of the impact of the many experiences of physical and material displacement that young people in care have. This chapter explores how the mental health of looked after children is conceptualized and the implications of considering the importance of space and embodiment in looked-after children’s mental health and well-being. The importance of notions of “home” and “belonging” for young people in care is considered, and the implications of these for an understanding of their well-being, as well as their experiences of distress, are explored.

foster care; adoption; mental health; embodiment; space

Title of seriesGeographies of Children and Young People
Number in series9
Publication date01/09/2016
Publication date online01/09/2016
Place of publicationSingapore

People (1)


Professor Jane Callaghan

Professor Jane Callaghan

Director Child Wellbeing & Protection, Social Work