NUMBER 817 • 30 AUGUST • FAMILY FOSTER CARE
Family foster care is increasingly and commonly used in the USA for young people who come to the attention of the child welfare system in private as well as public agency settings. According to estimates by the U.S.A. Department of Health and Human Services, typically over half a million children and youths are placed in out-of-home care, mostly in foster care.
As of October 2000:
150.487 (26%) were placed with relatives;
272.036 (48%) with non-related foster families;
43.537 (8%) in group homes;
53.534 (9%) in institutional settings;
and 19.463 (3%) in pre-adoptive homes.
The rest (6%) were in supervised independent living (4.946),
Or on 'trial home visits' (16.368)
(U.S.A. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).
For the most part, in comparison to those placed in family foster care, young persons enter group care with more serious behavioral problems and adjust poorly to life following discharge from care.
The assessment of processes and outcomes in family foster care presents quite a challenge, as there is limited systematic research. This paper reviews such research, following consideration of the objectives of family foster care.
Objectives of family foster care
Placement of young persons in family foster care occurs in situations in which the parents or relatives are unwilling or unable to provide adequately for their children due to a variety of reasons, including in particular child abuse or neglect. The central objectives of such care are outlined below.
- Providing safety for the child or youth to avoid further maltreatment and protect her or him from physical and/or emotional harm.
- Enhancing child well-being, through improvement in behavioral functioning, emotional development, physical health, and academic performance.
- Promoting permanency planning for the child or youth, that is, helping her or him to live in a safe birth family or in another family setting that offers adequate care as well as a sense of belonging and life-long family ties.
To achieve the above-stated objectives, family foster care is typically conceptualized as a comprehensive family support service, with the family regarded as the central focus of attention. On the basis of comprehensive assessment and case planning, its major functions include protection in emergency situations; intervention when the family is in crisis; family reunification; preparation for adoption; or preparation for independent living.
Placement in family foster care ideally is planned carefully, in order to provide services and opportunities that help families to be rehabilitated and children to grow up and develop optimally. Furthermore, such placement is for the most part time-limited, so as to avoid the drifting of children from one living arrangement to another and to promote permanency planning.
In addition, planning for placement should take into account the dimension of race and ethnicity of child, birth family, and foster family — a dimension which is largely neglected in the studies that will be reviewed. In particular, in the provision of services there should be attention to the significance and potential impact of human diversity and variations in such areas as family norms, child-rearing practices, and parent-child as well as family relationships. Such attention could serve to 'develop more responsive programs that will better meet the particular needs of families from diverse backgrounds.' (Martin, 2000, p. 198).
Maluccio, A.N. Processes and outcomes in family foster care: A selective North-American review. International Journal of Child & Family Welfare, 2003/4, page 133-134