NUMBER 695• 3 MARCH • EXPERIENCE OF A FOSTER CHILD
Being a foster child is often an experience fraught with distress and anxiety, emotionally and socially, due to the experience of loss, identity crisis, isolation, and separation from birth family, parents and siblings. Some children move between foster homes and must repeatedly establish new relationships or adjust to new situations. Contact with the family of origin may be irregular. However, some children are resilient, and this may be true for children in foster care (Rutter, 1990). Previous research has shown that foster care is difficult to carry out successfully (Berridge, 1998; Börjeson & Hĺkansson, 1990; Triseloitis, 1989). Studies of children’s experiences rendered in their own words have gradually been increasing in number. Initially, in Nordic research, they were retrospective (Guldborg et al., 1991; Koch & Koch, 1995). As pointed out by Hill (1997), few foster care studies have included interviews with children. This study is inspired by ideas of social research with children (James & Prout, 1990; Qvortrup, 1991) and by studies of foster care and adoption in Scandinavia (Andersson, 1995, 1998) as well as in the UK (Butler & Williamson, 1994; Thomas, et al., 1999). Inspiration also comes from the development of participatory research among children (Hill, 1997; Thomas & O’Kane, 1998; Thomas, 2000). This kind of research is guided by the view that children and young people are active subjects and are capable of forming judgements and making decisions at an early age; they are no less trustworthy in their accounts than are adults.
Findings relevant to this study suggest that children wish to have an influence on their own lives, to have a warm and stable relationship with at least one other person, and to experience honesty and trustworthiness from practitioners and carers. These three wishes are often absent in practice, according to the children and young people participating in the Nordic studies mentioned above, and call out for care, general human virtues, and cooperative practice on the part of service providers (Kristinsd6ttir, 1997).
Several aspects of foster care research findings are widely debated. Researchers, however, have reached some consensus on indices that might signal well-being and quality of life. Some apply in general and others are specific. Four concepts related to foster care experience were identified to construct an interview guide in this study: conditions, quality of care, relationships with others, and autonomy Together, they comprise valid indicators of successful outcomes in foster care (Berridge, 1998). They seem to match accurately the reported experiences of foster children in studies. The foster child who fares well describes good conditions of upbringing, has experienced being cared for, has established mutual trust and relationship(s) with a significant other(s), has kept contact with his/her family of origin, and has established peer relationships. The child also experiences a feeling of autonomy and copes with daily life to the extent most people do.
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