Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Visiting, Conflicting Allegiances, Emotional and Behavioral Problems among Foster Children

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Visiting, Conflicting Allegiances, Emotional and Behavioral Problems among Foster Children

Article excerpt

Parental Visiting, Conflicting Allegiances, and Emotional and Behavioral Problems Among Foster Children*

This study tested the hypothesis that frequent parental visiting is associated with foster children's conflicting allegiances to foster families and biological parents among a random sample of 199 young adolescents placed in family foster care for longer than I year. Conflicting allegiances were expected to be associated with emotional and behavioral disturbance. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that frequent visitation is potentially difficult for foster children because of the loyalty conflicts that might accompany frequent visiting. These results suggest that interventions designed to reduce loyalty conflicts might improve the adaptation of high-risk foster children.

Key Words: behavior problems, foster families, parent-child relationships, parental visitation.

In 1999, an estimated 290,000 children were separated from their parents and placed in foster care. Foster homes and institutional settings provided care for more than 500,000 children in 1999 at any point in time (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). For most children in substitute care, visiting with their parents is an essential aspect of the service plan. Visiting maintains children's relationships with their parents and increases their chances for returning home. In fact, frequency of parental visiting is a stronger predictor of reunification than parental characteristics, child characteristics, and the reason for child placement (Fanshel, 1982; Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Mech, 1985; Milner, 1987). Several researchers and advocates also have suggested that parental visiting provides benefits other than reunification, such as improving children's adaptation to foster care and decreasing their emotional and behavioral problems (Cantos, Gries, & Slis, 1997; Fanshel & Shinn; Hess, 1988). Although children might exhibit behavior problems immediately after visits, maintaining relationships with their parents over time also might help foster children cope with feelings of abandonment and loss, develop realistic perceptions of their parents, and establish positive relationships with others (Colon, 1978; Littner, 1975; Tiddy, 1986).

Although most studies suggest a positive relationship between parental visiting and child well-being (e.g., Berridge & Cleaver, 1987; Cantos et al., 1997; Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Millham, Bullock, Hosie, & Haak, 1986), research findings indicate that the influence of parental visitation on children's adaptation to foster care might be more complex than is generally understood (Fanshel & Shinn; Fanshel, Finch, & Grundy, 1990; Festinger, 1983; Millham et al.). How parental visiting affects a foster child's emotional and behavioral adaptation is likely to be determined by the frequency of visiting, as well as by the circumstances of visiting. Aspects of the child's relationship with the parent, the attitude of the foster parent toward visitation, the length of time that a child has been in care, and the frequency of the visits also might affect a child's reaction to visitation.

This study attempts to address these issues by considering the relationships between parental visitation, the nature of a child's ties to foster families and biological parents, and the emotional and behavioral problems of children in long-term family foster care. By examining the associations between visiting, allegiances to biological and foster parents, and children's emotional and behavioral problems, a more complete understanding of the relationship between parental visiting and child adjustment can be gained. Understanding these associations is vital, not only because of the importance of visiting for reunification but also because foster children are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems (e.g., Glisson, 1996; Helfinger, Simpkins, & Combs-Orme, 2000). …

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