Academic journal article Child Welfare

How Children in Care View Their Own and Their Foster Families: A Research Study

Academic journal article Child Welfare

How Children in Care View Their Own and Their Foster Families: A Research Study

Article excerpt

During the 1980s, a major philosophical shift to calling for the use of "least intrusive measures" took place in the shaping of child welfare legislation in Canada. This shift has affected the provision of services both positively and negatively. Positive effects include improved efforts to support families and the development of family support programs. Negative effects have been delays in intervention with children who need to come into care.

A series of research studies conducted by the authors in Ontario attested to the enduring value of family foster care and the need for such care to be inclusive, to the degree possible, of each child's own family. The culmination of these studies was the development and testing of a model for "inclusive care" practice [Kufeldt 1994]. Implementation of the model demonstrated that inclusive care not only helps the child but can be a powerful vehicle for support and development of the child's family. Thus, inclusive foster care fits well with the philosophy of using least intrusive measures.

Important developmental work in family foster care [Steinhauer et al. 1988, 1989] parallels the work noted above. Steinhauer has shared the results of his accumulated wisdom in The Least Detrimental Alternative [Steinhauer 1991], which analyzes the nature of family ties and provides a tool for decisionmaking and planning in child welfare.

This article presents research conducted as a precursor to developing a model for practice based on the theory of inclusive care. It tests the assumption that children in care carry with them an idealised picture of their parents. It also examines the effects of aspects of inclusive care on children's ratings of their own parents and their foster families. The instruments chosen for the children's ratings were the Family Assessment Measure (FAM) scales developed by Skinner [1987]. Forty children assessed their own family and their foster family to provide measures of family functioning from the child's perspective.

Background

Inclusive care is a term first used by Holman [1975]. Its basic premise is that the children's own parents should not be excluded from the fostering system and that children need "a true sense of their present identity and past history" [p. 10]. This has parallels to Kirk's theory building with respect to adoption [1964, 1981] and his concept of "acknowledgment of difference." To date, inclusion of children's own parents in the delivery of family foster care services has not been common practice, although it is not a new idea. As early as 1961, Swindall presented the following three theoretical constructs:

* Foster care is a temporary resource while the natural family corrects its circumstances.

* The goal of placement is rehabilitation of the natural home.

* The natural parents must continue to offer a personalized role in the life of the child. [Swindall 1961: 6-11, emphasis added].

Practice lags behind knowledge, however, despite the considerable support and advocacy for inclusive care that has emerged in the professional literature [Blumenthal & Weinberg 1984; Family Rights Group 1986; Galaway et al. 1994; Hess & Proch 1988; Kufeldt 1991, 1994; Kufeldt & Allison 1990; Proch & Hess 1987; Proch & Howard 1984]. Fanshel and colleagues provided us with empirical links between contact and return home [Fanshel 1975; Fanshel & Shinn 1978]. Berridge and Cleaver demonstrated the link between lack of contact and foster care placement breakdown [Berridge & Cleaver 1987; Cleaver 1994]. Millham et al. [1986] echoed the earlier findings of Maas and Engler [1959] with respect to drift in care and the loss of family ties. Colon [1978] and Steinhauer [1983, 1991] have with equal eloquence argued for the continuing importance of family to children in placement. The use of FAM in this study has the potential to further develop knowledge in that it provides a method to examine the effects of inclusiveness on the likelihood of idealisation and on children's perceptions of their own parents and their foster parents. …

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