Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Concept of Family: Perceptions of Children in Family Foster Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Concept of Family: Perceptions of Children in Family Foster Care

Article excerpt



analysis of American kinship patterns distinguished between legal and blood relationships. In American culture, legal relationships may be terminated, whereas blood relationships involve identity and are inalienable. Although occasionally the legal rights of biological parents to

child can be terminated by the courts, nevertheless, the existence of a blood relationship remains. Biological mothers remain "mothers" regardless of who raises their children: one cannot have an ex-mother.

Social policy concerned with child protection draws upon this distinction between inalienable and terminable relationships. A further assumption is that parents have a right to rear their children and children have a right to be reared by their parents unless the likelihood of specific and significant harm to the children can be demonstrated

Allen & Golubock 1985


According to Schneider

1968: 26

, "a foster child's relationship to his foster parents ...


a parent-child relationship in the sense that it is a pattern for how interpersonal relationships should proceed." Nevertheless, the relationship with the biological parent is perceived to be primary, and Australia appears to be following the lead of the United States in directing resources away from out-of-home care and toward placement prevention and family reunification

Allen & Golubock 1985; Victorian Government 1991


Despite the extensive literature on out-of-home care, little has been written directly on the topic of who children in family foster care perceive their family to be, and whether adult perceptions of the primacy of the biological bond are shared by children in foster care. Schneider


found that American adults gave a wide variety of responses to the question of who they thought comprised their family. Their judgments were based on the existence of a "relationship" with the family members, with "distance" being said to be the deciding factor for inclusion or exclusion. Schneider delineated three aspects of distance: simple physical distance, socioemotional distance, and genealogical distance. Respondents reported that genealogically close relatives such as parents, siblings, children, and spouses were all perceived to be emotionally close even when they were physically distant. Less genealogically close relatives, such as grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, and cousins, were also perceived as relatives, even if the perception of the relationship was weak. Beyond that, responses were idiosyncratic.

Researchers investigating children's concepts of family have found a similar, but not identical, result. Isaacs et al.


reported studies showing that it is not uncommon for a small percentage of children (up to 6%) to omit a parent from a depiction of their family; the percentage of single-parent families in each sample, however, was not always reported. Studies of children of divorced and separated families clearly show a percentage of children omitting the nonresident parent. Several studies have reported figures ranging from 9% to 41% for omission of nonresident fathers

Funder 1991; Isaacs & Levin 1984; Isaacs et al. 1987

. Isaacs et al.

1987: 106

also reported an omission rate of 36% for nonresident mothers, and that "omissions dramatically increase among those children who are visited less than once a month." They proposed that "children are quite aware of who is responsible for their welfare, and ... they use this awareness to define family membership"

1987: 102

. Their findings support their argument that "it is the child's perception of collaboration and shared responsibility between the parents rather than the residential arrangements that determine the child's view of who is in the family." They interpret their results to mean that "a child's definition of who is in the family is a realistic assessment of who is responsible for major aspects of the child's life"

1987: 109

. …

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