2000 Jordan Institute
Vol. 1, No.
What do Children Think about Foster Care?
Many concerns are expressed about foster care. Attachment issues, cost effectiveness, training, parental visitation, and other areas keep foster care workers concerned about the work they do. Eveyone wants to minimize the number of placements for children, but this becomes difficult when foster homes are in short supply and placements break down for one reason or another.
This article will summarize the results of two studies that focus on people who are often not asked their opinions of foster care--biological/adoptive children of foster parents and foster children themselves. By understanding their positions, perhaps foster care placement breakdown can be avoided.
Denise Poland and Victor Groze based their 1993 study in literature that reported that the reaction of biological children to foster children was often responsible for specific placements being unsuccessful and for foster parents leaving the foster care program. These authors interviewed parents and their children about the foster care experience to try to find out how children had been prepared for the placement of a foster child, what difficulties arose in the family, and what suggestions they had for other families planning to foster a child.
Both parents and children agreed that the most difficult issue was sharing parental time between children and foster children. The average age of the children answering the questionaire was 13. This age is interesting because one might imagine that older children would not be as concerned with parental attention; this appears to be a faulty assumption.
The children also wanted more information about what having a foster sibling would be like. Specifically, they did not feel prepared for the behavior problems many children brought to care. Some asked why the foster children didn't live with their own families, showing a lack of understanding of why the foster child was in the home to begin with.
The issue of parental guidance and attention surfaced in the children's comments. They reported that they spent more time away from home than they did before the foster child's arrival and had more freedom to make their own decisions, since their parents were preoccupied with the foster child. Both parents and children noted that the experience had helped biological children appreciate their own homes more. Children reported learning about how to care for children younger than themselves and generally, enjoying meeting and coming to care about children outside of their family. Some said they wanted to become foster parents themselves.
These findings indicate the biological/adoptive children living in a home with foster children will experience ambivalent feelings about the foster child's presence. Both parents and children felt that pre-training just for children should be offered prior to placement. Parents also suggested that children be allowed to meet other children who had had foster siblings in order to understand and discuss feelings about the process.
Another, often silent, partner crucial to understanding the foster care process is the foster child herself. In a 1995 article published in Child Welfare, Penny Ruff Johnson and colleagues describe interviews they conducted with 59 foster children about their feelings regarding foster care. All children were between 11 and 14 years of age and had been in placement between six months and two years. Many had had stable placements but a significant number had had multiple placements.
For these children, the positives of coming into care far outweighed the negatives reported in this article. Very few reported serious problems in placement and almost all felt their foster parents were working hard to help them adjust to the placement. They saw both their neighborhoods and schools as superior in foster placement. Over half were involved in extracurricular activities in their school.
These foster children spoke poignantly of the role of their case worker. One child was quoted as saying, "She saved my life by taking me out of my real home. I would've gotten killed there." Others expressed appreciation for the dramatic change in their life-styles--some pointed to better food, more opportunities for earning money, and generally saying "everything is better."
In spite of these positive reports, all children missed their biological parents and siblings. In addition, they reported missing their old friends more than anyone else. Generally, these children saw their parents as needing a combination of material goods and temperamental changes before they could return home. Two children's statements regarding what they would like to say to their biological parents are particularly telling: "Don't get in trouble or get hurt. Don't talk to strangers. Don't take drugs," and "A child needs someone to raise them, someone to take care of them." Children also had a few suggestions for case workers--be on time for visits, know how to talk and listen to kids, and plan parental visits.
Another area of concern to these children was the way they were taken into care. Many described being removed from school with police officers and case workers present. This was highly embarrassing to them and they felt that they were the ones who had done something wrong. One child remembered, "it seemed like we were going to jail." The children were also embarrassed when police officers and case workers descended upon their home. While many agreed that the state sometimes needs to intervene in families on behalf of children, they were deeply troubled by the way this was done.
Johnson, P. R., Yoken, C., & Voss, R. (1995). Family foster care placement: The child's perspective. Child Welfare, 14 (5), 959-974.
Poland, D. C., & Groze, V. (1993). Effects of foster care placement on biological children in the home. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 10 (1), 153-163.
© 1996 Jordan Institute for Families