Adaptation to Stress: A Common Model and Method to Facilitate Within- and Cross-Cultural Evaluation of Foster Families

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Studies meant to allow "cross-cultural" comparisons may be fatally flawed by the concepts, instruments, and discoveries of one culture being applied uncritically to another (namely, "etic" errors; cf. current discussions and examples in Chand, 2008; Durrenberger and Erem, 2007). Moreover, studies of foster families often disregard the unique ecosystemic environments in which those families are embedded (Lee, 2008). Therefore, this paper describes an overarching family adaptation model meant to resolve the foregoing problems. Secondary analysis of data describing urban Egyptian foster families (Megahead, 2008; Megahead and Cesario, 2008) illustrates the application of this model and suggests its heuristic value: Use of this model and method will allow common understanding of commonalities and differences within and between cultures, while respecting the uniqueness of each. The Family Stress and Adaptation Model focuses on family adaptation as a function of family stressors interacting with family coping resources. Although the framework is thought to apply to all cultures involving families, the variables--adaptation, stressors, and resources--are defined and operationalized emically (that is, the cultural insider's perspective determines what is to be considered, its nature, and size).

THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL FOUNDATION: FAMILY STRESS AND ADAPTATION MODEL

Contemporary family coping theories commonly agree that any family's adaptation to stress, and family stability, is an interactive function of three factors: family stressors, family resources, and the unique perceptions of all parties with regard to them (cf. Price and Price, 2010). This fundamental model provides a conceptual framework for examining, predicting, understanding, preventing, and treating instability in foster families (McFadden, 1996).

If the Family Stress and Adaptation Model is extended to foster families, their stressors are life events or occurrences that create sufficient stress to require change in the foster family system (cf. Malia, 2006). Foster family coping resources reside in the birth family, foster children, members of the foster family, and in the community. If foster families are not flexible enough to adapt to foster-care-related stressors in a timely manner, they are expected to become unstable. The worst case scenario is when foster family equilibrium is restored by removing foster children from those homes and placing them elsewhere. The families have a sense of failure in their mission; the children experience yet another loss and perceive themselves at blame (McFadden, 1996).

Key characteristics of foster families and their foster children are thought to mediate and moderate the interaction between family stressors and family resources. According to the literature (mostly Western hemisphere) these variables include age and gender of the foster child, length of stay in the foster family, respective ages of the foster parents, number and age of birth siblings in the foster home, and the number of bedrooms in the foster family home (cf. Bosworth et al., 2000; McCubbin, 1988; Stoneman and Crapps, 1988). Whereas the Family Stress and Adaptation Model (3 global factors, namely, stability as a function of stress and resources) is assumed to be universally applicable, these mediating and moderating variables are not. Their influence, as well as perception of adjustment, stressors, and resources, are expected to be unique to cultures and subcultures.

Foster Family Stressors

According to family coping theories, foster family stressors are expected to be life events or occurrences of sufficient magnitude to bring about change in the foster family system, that is, interpersonal attempts to cope. In the United States, frequently-studied stressors for foster families have been:

* Difficulties in the relationships between foster children and their biological families, including loyalties and responsibilities, as well as their own relationships with the children's biological families (cf. …