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Leaving the street? Exploring transition experiences of street-connected children and youth in Kenya

Corcoran, SL (2017) Leaving the street? Exploring transition experiences of street-connected children and youth in Kenya. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Manchester.

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Abstract

This exploratory study was inspired by the author’s voluntary work with streetconnected children and youth in Kenya. It develops an understanding of the experiences of young people leaving the street in two provincial Kenyan towns. Although there has been extensive research concerned with street-connectedness, there has been a limited focus on young people’s transitions away from the street. Participants were identified with the help of three organisations: fifty-three young people, aged 12 -28, participated in semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and visual methods, during two field research visits to Kenya, in 2012 and 2013. The study found that their experiences of leaving the street were influenced by their day-to-day interactions with family, friends and other members of the communities into which they transitioned. These interactions influenced how accepted the young people felt and the extent to which they believed they were supported economically, physically and psychosocially, especially with regards to their relationships with family members. The participants’ interactions with school-based peers and teachers were particularly important in schools and training centres, where they struggled to develop a sense of belonging. Being street-connected is an integral part of the identities constructed by young people after they leave the street and establish places for themselves in their families, schools, local communities, and wider society. Such street-connectedness can be a strength: the resilience and skills developed on the street are useful attributes in adapting to new situations, potentially providing income-generating opportunities later on. However, the stigmatisation and resulting marginalisation they experienced on the street can have lasting effects. Barriers to inclusion experienced on the street influence a young person’s ability to develop a sense of belonging to their new situation after leaving the street. This study makes a conceptual contribution. Street-connectedness begins when a young person first arrives on the street, and continues until what could be years after they leave it. This street-connectedness can be characterised by three liminalities. The first is associated with living in the physical space defined as being on the street: a physical embodiment of liminality. The second, describes the process of being in transition as a young person newly arrived on the street, or having recently left the street: each being a liminal phase. The third liminality is described by an identity-forming social space, associated with being, and having been, street-connected: a liminal identity. This liminal identity, associated with being street-connected, impacts upon young people (re)entering home communities and, in particular, education, and highlights a need to consider and address the effects of these impacts.

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