Language maintenance in foster care – family language policies and their social and educational contexts

Thematic Section: Enhancing research on family language and educational policies in multilingual and underprivileged contexts: Focusing on outcomes within the families and during the transition to school

immigrant minority languages; underprivileged multilingual families; language maintenance; FLP; educational policies

Judith Purkarthofer, University of Duisburg-Essen

Language maintenance is a challenge for most families, even privileged ones. In precarious living conditions – for instance legally as in the case of refugees, economically, e.g. due to insecure working conditions or due to illness – the resources needed to travel, to maintain ties with linguistically favorable circumstances or to support children in their multilingual schooling experience might be limited. One under-researched context of precarious family life is the (temporary) placement of children outside their family. This contribution sets out to map the conditions of language maintenance of children placed outside their family – for various reasons, including neglect or violence – as their language repertoires can be severely affected. In particular in the case of young children, placement outside the family might result in forced language shift and discontinuation of the family language.

As the topic has rarely been the focus of attention, my aim is to present preliminary findings about Germany, Austria and Norway, starting with the research questions: Is language maintenance legally and effectively ensured in the process of placing children outside of their family? If so, how is this organized and to which goal? How are these policies influenced by educational policies in place (e.g. a strong focus on majority languages)? The first phase of the empirical research is based on an analysis of legal conditions and available support structures through document analysis and will be complemented at a later stage through interviews with social workers, foster parents, parents and children. The focus on family language policies in foster care not only broadens our understanding of how family language policy and education can (and need to) interact for better or worse, it also helps to make power relations in language policy decisions explicit.