Academic journal article Family Relations

Support and Conflict in the Foster Family and Children's Well-Being: A Comparison between Foster and Birth Children

Academic journal article Family Relations

Support and Conflict in the Foster Family and Children's Well-Being: A Comparison between Foster and Birth Children

Article excerpt


Data on 96 foster families with a foster child and a birth child between the ages of 10 and 21 years were used to analyze the association between support and conflict processes within the foster family and youths' reports on four indexes of well-being: self-esteem, self-efficacy, emotional problems, and behavioral problems. The self-esteem of foster children was more strongly affected by support and conflict processes in the foster family than was the self-esteem of birth children in the same family. For birth children as well as for foster children, parental support significantly related to emotional problems. For foster children, but not for birth children, more conflicts with the foster parents related to more behavioral problems. The results are compared with other studies, and implications for practice are suggested.

Key Words: conflict, father involvement, foster children, parent-child relationships, sibling relations, social support.

Several studies have demonstrated that children in foster care suffer from more mental health problems than do children in die normative population (Orme & Buehler, 2001). This high rate of emotional and behavioral problems among foster children is not surprising considering die circumstances that often lead to a child's placement in foster care. Until now, most studies on foster care have focused on the mental health problems of foster children or on the major stressors they have experienced prior to their placement in a foster family.

Far less is known about the characteristics of the foster family and the influence they can have on the adjustment of foster children. Yet, the foster family is the daily context of many foster children. As Orme and Buehler (2001) stated, "Given the important role of foster families, it is interesting to understand aspects of die foster family that might exacerbate behavioral and emotional problems in foster children, as well as aspects of the foster family that might prevent or ameliorate future problems" (p. 3). This paper aims to provide insight into the influence support and conflict processes may have on key indexes of children's well-being for a sample of foster families in Flanders.

Foster Care for Children in Flanders

A foster family provides a safe environment for children who cannot live at home (temporarily) because of parental problems. Since the constitutional changes in Belgium from 1980 and 1988, responsibility for youth care transferred to the communities and there is no longer a Belgian foster care system. In Flanders, placements in foster families are carried out by 25 private agencies authorized and subsidized by the Flemish Community. Most of the placements result from a "special youth care" decision by the juvenile court or by the Committee for Special Youth Care Assistance. The committees for special youth care or the juvenile court can decide whether a familial situation is problematic for the child and whether the child needs to be placed in foster care. These voluntary decisions, in accordance with all parties involved, are the domain of the committees for special youth care; however, the juvenile court can impose an obligatory placement. In special youth care, all children under the age of 18 years are assisted after a decision from the juvenile court or from the Committee for Special Youth Care.

Besides special youth care, there is also foster care for disabled persons, temporary foster care (maximum 90 days per year) for children younger than 12 years (child and family), and psychiatric foster care. Foster care is considered full-time care and is supposed to be a temporary arrangement, with the expectation that the child will return to the parents. However, the length of stay of 30% of the placements, within the system of special youth care, has averaged 3 years or more. In 2004, there were 3,489 foster families in the Flemish Community, of which 2,505 (72%) were within special youth care. …

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