Sisters of Pain and the child protection paradox. An ethnographic study of a young woman living in secure care


  • Leon Fulcher International Child and Youth Care Network Board
  • Aliese Moran
  • James P. Anglin University of Victoria


children's voices, secure care, pain-based behaviour, ethnographic study


This paper is extracted from a recent book entitled 'Sisters of Pain: An Ethnography of Young Women Living in Secure Care' by Leon Fulcher and Aliese Moran (2013) which presents an ethnographic study of young women living in a high security youth services facility in the USA. In addition to the actual voices of many of the sixteen residents involved in that study, the text includes analyses and reflections by their primary social worker, retrospective reflections on each girl's experiences by one of the former residents, along with references to contemporary child and youth care research and practice literature. Although these life story accounts occurred over four decades ago, the voices are remarkably alive and worthy of note, especially given the emergence of notions about trauma-informed practice and pain-based behaviour. Too often the experiences of pain and the voices of children in care are overlooked or sanitized in scientific studies. For that reason, ethnographic research can help to inform our understandings about youth care as scholars and professionals. Nicki's story, one of the sixteen presented here, explores some key elements of an enduring child protection paradox, namely the apparent inevitability of 'doing harm whilst doing good'. Questions are posed for consideration by human services practitioners, managers, policy makers, researchers and students. While this story is real, the names of residents and geographical locations have been changed to ensure confidentiality.

Author Biographies

Leon Fulcher, International Child and Youth Care Network Board

International Child and Youth Care Network Board, Tuai, Wairoa, New Zealand.

Aliese Moran

Independent publicist, USA.

James P. Anglin, University of Victoria

School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, Canada.