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The Challenge of Being a Foster Parent


The Challenge of Being a Foster Parent

                             Literature Review

February 29, 2004
This review discusses  the commonly overlooked  issue  of  how  adults
should deal with foster children with behavioral problems.  It will  explain
how foster parents can help foster children  properly  adapt  to  their  new
homes, how foster parents can contribute to maladjustment, and what  can  be
done by foster parents to correct pre-existing problems.  This  review  will
help others understand the process of fostering children  and  will  uncover
the  thought  processes  of  foster  parents  in  dealing  with  problematic
This paper identifies the behavioral problems of foster  children  and
how they develop as a  function  of  the  surrounding  environment  and  the
foster parents, the history of how adults deal  with  foster  children,  and
past attempts to understand the issue, and reviews  and  studies  that  have
been done about the issue.
Problem Statement
Ways in which foster parents understand and deal with foster  children
who have behavioral problems is a serious issue in  the  United  States  and
one that tugs at the heartstrings.  This issue remains serious  due  to  the
fact that approaching troubled foster children is  often  a  difficult  task
that not many adults feel they can handle.  Due to  the  difficult  task  of
caring troubled foster children, many foster parents become less willing  to
care for such children (Cox, Orme, & Rhodes, 2003).
A study performed by Cox, Orme, and Rhodes, in which 142 foster family
applicants were a part of,  showed  that,  while  most  foster  parents  are
willing to care for foster children, very few want to take on  the  task  of
caring for a foster child with behavioral problems.  In fact,  some  of  the
only families to take care of these children were families that  had  access
to many resources and were placed in  the  upper  and  upper-middle  classes
(Cox et al., 2003).  Even those  homes  that  do  take  on  troubled  foster
children end up giving up on the child and sending him/her away  to  another
home, making the problem even worse.  In fact, almost  all  troubled  foster
children have seen more than one or two  homes,  and  likewise  with  foster
parents, seeing more than one or two foster children.
Sonya Leathers, in her study of foster children  and  their  troubling
behaviors as a function of foster parents and community institutions,  found
that most foster children who are not respected and cared for  at  home  and
who are not actively involved in the  community  with  a  group  with  adult
leadership will develop problems as  well.   Troubled  foster  children  are
often excluded  from  activities  in  school,  on  the  playground,  and  in
extracurricular activities.  These experiences lead  to  a  detachment,  not
only  from  the  foster  parents,  but  also  from  the  environment.   This
detachment causes the child  to  retreat  at  the  prospect  of  interaction
between himself and the foster parents as well as social  events  or  taking
part in an activity where a role with any amount of importance  is  assigned
(Leathers, 2000).  Society’s negative view of these disenchanted youth  only
serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which these  children  have  a  great
deal of difficulty overcoming.

                     Historical Perspective

Historically,  foster  parents  are  adults  of  households  who  have
decided, not to adopt, but to take on the challenge of caring  for  a  child
until the child is ready for adoption.  These adults are usually  in  charge
of normal households and are willing  to  take  in  and  care  for  orphaned
children who have nowhere to go or cannot go back to their old families  for
legal or health issues.  Foster parents will usually care for the child  for
any amount of time until another family or the foster family  itself  adopts
the child.  In 1999 alone, over 290,000 children were separated  from  their
parents and placed  into  the  care  of  foster  parents  (Leathers,  2003).
Hundreds of thousands of adults make the decision to foster  a  child  every
History has shown that children who are separated from  their  parents
and placed into foster homes usually develop behavioral problems due to  the
sudden shift in environments and pressure to adjust to the new  life.   Most
foster children in this situation feel violated, rejected,  and  handed  off
as if they were just some  tangible  object  to  be  passed  around.   These
children become maladjusted to  their  new  environments  and  the  negative
feelings spur on cognitive psychological issues that cause the child to  act
out in a manner  that  is  deemed  unacceptable  in  society.   This  causes
problems for the foster parents that they are not able to  handle.   History
has also shown that foster parents who give away a problem child instead  of
attempting to correct the problem contribute to the  negative  behaviors  of
the child, resulting in fire starting, stealing, vandalizing,  bullying,  or
acting in ways that go against societal norms.  These actions are  performed
mostly in part for their sheer shock value  and  the  intentions  that  they
will draw attention to a much larger problem: the need for love,  attention,
and care.  In the past, the causes of such behavior  problems  were  largely
unknown due to the lack of research.  Due to this,  children  who  developed
behavioral problems were either  harshly  disciplined  or  sent  to  another
foster home, in either case, the underlying problems  were  ignored  and  an
“easier way out” was taken.   Very  few  families  knew  how  to  deal  with
troubled foster children (Breuninger, 2004).
Recent studies have since found that the transition  and  readjustment
periods are very crucial to the psychological development later in life  and
that foster parents play a very crucial role in the  child’s  life.   Foster
parents must constantly apply an environment full  of  honesty,  trust,  and
attention.  Foster parents must let the child know that he/she is wanted  in
the home.  Also, foster parents must stress  participation  in  outside  the
home activities, thus helping to include the child  and  make  him/her  feel
comfortable in and out of the home (Puddy, 2003).

Related Studies

Research Study 1

This study examines the willingness  of  foster  parents  to  take  in
orphaned children with behavioral problems.  This longitudinal study of  142
foster family applicants analyzed  the  feelings  and  thoughts  behind  the
individuals applying to take on foster children.  It found that most  adults
were willing to talk about taking on such troubled children, but the act  of
actually caring for the child was not one that most of the  applicants  were
ready to do (Cox et al., 2003).  Of the few families that actually care  for
a troubled child, most have spent time in pre-service training learning  how
to care for this type of child.  These results have  important  implications
for recruiting, training, and  providing  support  and  services  to  foster
families (Cox, Orme, & Rhodes, 2003).

Research Study 2

This study examines the effect of parental  visitations  to  child  in
foster homes and feelings of disorientation  within  the  child.   A  random
sample of 199 young adolescents placed in foster  care  for  longer  than  1
year was used for this study.   Leathers  examined  how  biological  parents
often feel  the  need  to  visit  their  children  in  foster  homes.   This
situation creates a problem for the foster parents  in  that  the  child  is
torn by feelings of allegiance between the two sets of parents.  This  makes
it harder for the foster parents to make an impression on  the  child.   Due
to the feelings of confusion in the child, he is often  negatively  affected
psychologically, and instead of choosing one, or both  sets  of  parents  to
bond with, the child ends up  rejecting  both  sets  of  parents  (Leathers,

Research Study 3

This study examines how the parents deal with the  transition  process
of bringing a foster child into their home.  Forty sets of  foster  parents,
were used for this study in order to predict the development  of  behavioral
problems in coordination with different transitional processes.   The  study
focused on how the foster parents organized the transition  for  the  child:
the type of the environment in the  house,  attitudes,  rules,  and  overall
procedures that help the child properly adjust to its new home.   The  study
found that foster parents need to be very careful with the  child  and  that
each child is different, so there are no set standards  for  foster  parents
to go by.  The only solid way of figuring out how to help the  child  adjust
well is for the foster parent to introduce a lot of  love,  care,  and  most
importantly, respect for the child (Barber & Delfabbro, 2002)

                      Areas for further research


Discuss limitations of the literature

The amount of literature on this topic  is  not  limited,  but  rather
spread out.  There are many deviations to the original question of  troubled
foster children such as how they become troubled, who  is  willing  to  care
for them, and how they should be treated.  Overall, the literature  actually
helped to define the topic and give it some distinct points that  helped  to

Areas where further research is needed

Some more research needs to be done on what foster parents should  not
do and what they should do  when  certain  problems  arise.   Although  many
think about  the  hardships  that  foster  children  must  go  through,  the
tremendous effort put forth by the  foster  parents  often  goes  unnoticed.
They are the ones that change their lives in order to  accommodate  a  child
in need.  They must put a lot of work and money into creating a  comfortable
environment for the child, and when the child  leaves,  the  foster  parents
will have developed an emotional attachment and will often find it  hard  to
give up the child.  The foster parent also has the  burden  of  raising  the
child and teaching it  important  life  lessons  and  figuring  out  how  to
properly deal with a problematic child.
New ideas, projects being developed
Currently, there are no notable ideas or projects being developed that
have caught the attention of the  country.   Studies  are  constantly  being
done on the numerous aspects of this problem and will be published in  order
to help others become more educated on the topic, but  as  to  my  knowledge
there are no major projects being planned.

                           Summary of Review

This paper identified the problem of foster parents and the hard  work
they must do in order to take on a foster child, the different tactics  they
must use when dealing with the child, and  the  hardships  they  go  through
when they must give the child away.  Foster parents must be given their  due
respect for even attempting to take on such a challenging task.
Further research questions
Through my  research,  I  became  curious  as  to  what  programs  are
available to help foster parents learn how to care for foster  children  and
deal with the myriad of needs and situations that may arise.  What  are  the
processes that an applying family must go through in order  to  care  for  a
foster child?  What requirements must future foster parents  fulfill  before
taking on a child?

Barber, James G. & Delfabbro, Paul H. (2002, July).  The plight of
disruptive children in out of home care.  Children’s Services: Social
Policy, Research, & Practice, 5(3), 201-212.  Retrieved February 29,
2004 from EBSCOhost database.
Breuninger, Harriet A. (2004, February).  History and transition to
adoption.  A meeting with my mother in Philadelphia, Pa.
Cox, Mary Ellen, Orme, John G., & Rhodes, Kathryn W. (2003).  Willingness
to foster children with emotional or behavioral problems.  Journal of
Social Service Research, 29(4), 23-51.  Retrieved February 29, 2004
from EBSCOhost database.  (2003 APA)
Leathers, Sonya J. (2003, January).  Parental visiting, conflicting
allegiances, and emotional and behavioral problems among foster
children.  Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied
Family Studies, 52(1), 53-63.  Retrieved February 29, 2004 from
EBSCOhost database.
Leathers, Sonya J. (2002, April).  Foster children’s behavioral disturbance
and detachment from caregivers and community institutions.  Children
and Youth Services Review, 24(4), 239-268.  Retrieved February 29,
2004 from EBSCOhost database.
Puddy, Richard W. (2003, December).  The development of parenting skills in
foster parent training.  Children and Youth Services Review, 25(12),
987-1013.  Retrieved February 29, 2004 from EBSCOhost database.

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