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Definition And History Of Foster Care Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 3927 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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New World Enclopedia (2012) defines foster care as full-time substitute care of children outside their own home by people other than their biological or adoptive parents or legal guardians.]

History of foster care

Placement of children in foster homes is a concept which goes as far back as the Old Testament, which refers to caring for dependent children as a duty under law. Early Christian church records indicate orphaned children lived with widows who were paid by the church. English Poor Laws in the 1500s allowed the placement of poor children into indentured service until they became adults. This practice was imported to the United States and was the beginning of placing children into foster homes. [1]

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The most significant record of fostering was in 1853, a child was removed from a workhouse in Cheshire and placed in a foster family under the legal care of the local government.At the beginning of the 1900s only orphaned or abandoned children under the age of 11 years were fostered, and they had to have a demanding psychological profile – well adjusted, obedient and physically normal.

Until World War II, foster care was recognized as a charitable service. Two important events that pushed the state to look at the foster care system in a different angle was the first mass evacuation of millions of children and then the death of a child in a foster care in 1945.

In 1969 research was carried out on the foster care system and it was found that foster families required training on how to deal with the foster children and make them fill secure in the placement. (Jeune Guishard-Pine, 2007)

Foster care as a global concept

Foster care is probably the most widely practised form of substitute care for children world-wide, depending on the needs of the child, the culture and the system in place. There are many different kinds of fostering and definitions of ‘foster care’ vary internationally. It can be short -term, a matter of days ,or a child whole childhood. A review of foster care in Twenty-two countries found considerable diversity in the way of fostering in both defined and practised.(Hannah Johnson, 2005).Kinship foster care ,which is the most common form of fostering in African countries is not defined as ‘foster care’ in all countries. In Ireland for example only children placed with no relatives are said to be ‘fostered’. In some countries foster care is seen only as a temporary arrangement ,whereas in others the norms is for long term and quasi adoptive placement.(Colton &William ,1995)

Hannah Johnson (2005) stated that the process to be registered as foster parents in different countries such as U.K , Australia, Uganda and South Africa is practically the same. In some countries foster care programme is managed either by the government or agency, and each country has their basic criteria that need to be fulfilled ,such as being physically and mentally fit and healthy, having a room for the child ,having time to spend with the child .The process to be registered as foster families can take approximately six months. Individuals who are willing to become foster families must make their applications to the agency. A home study is conducted by a social worker to assess the capability of the applicants for taking care of a child. The assessment form is then forwarded to the final panel who will decide whether the applicants are fit to become foster carers.

Placement in Foster care

According to zuravin & Deponfilis (1997) children are removed from their homes to protect them from immediate abuses.

In many situations, these children have suffered physical, sexual abuse, or neglect at home, and therefore they are placed in a safe environment. A small percentage of children are in foster care because their parents feel unable to control them, and their behaviour may have led to delinquency or fear of harm to others. Some children have been neglected by their parents or legal guardians, or have parents or legal guardians who are unable to take care of them because of substance abuse, incarceration, or mental health problems. These children are then placed into foster care until the parents or guardians are capable of looking after them.[1]

In all foster care cases, the child’s biological or adoptive parents, or other legal guardians, temporarily give up legal custody of the child. (The guardian gives up custody, but not necessarily legal guardianship.) A child may be placed in foster care with the parents’ consent. In a clear case of abuse or neglect, a court can order a child into foster care without the parents’ or guardians’ consent.

Before any placement the foster care family is screened by the Government or agency through a psychologist or social worker that assess the foster care families under certain criteria such as emotional stability, motivation, parental skills and financial capabilities.[2]

The government provides foster families with an allocation taking in foster children. They are required to use the funds to buy the child’s food, clothing, school supplies, and other incidentals. Most of the foster parent’s responsibilities toward the foster child are clearly defined in a legal contract.

Foster placements may last for a single day or several weeks; some continue for years. If the parents give up their rights permanently, or their rights to their child are severed by the court, the foster family may adopt the foster child or the child may be placed for adoption by strangers.[3]

The Aim of Foster Care System

According to Hayden (1999), the aim of foster care system is to protect and endorse the security of the child, while providing foster parents and biological parents with the sufficient resources and available services needed to maintain the child’s healthy development. Foster care environments are proposed to be places of safety and comfort, and are monitored by several welfare agencies, representatives, and caseworkers. Personal caseworkers assigned to a foster child by the state or county are accountable for supervising the placement of the child into an appropriate foster care system or home. The caseworker also carries out regular visits to the foster care family home to monitor progress. Other agents involved in a child’s placement into foster care may include private service providers, welfare agencies, insurance agents, psychologists, and substance abuse counselors.

Types of Foster Care

Parents may voluntarily place children into foster care for various reasons. Such foster placements are monitored until the biological family can provide appropriate care for the child, or the biological parental rights are terminated and the child is adopted. A third option, known as guardianship, is sometimes utilized in certain cases where a child cannot be reunified with their birth family and adoption is not a suitable solution. This generally includes some older foster children who may be strongly bonded to their family of origin and unwilling to pursue adoption.

Voluntary foster care may be utilized in circumstances where a parent is unable or unwilling to care for a child; a child may have behavioural or psychological problems requiring specialized treatment, or the parent might have a problem which results in a temporary or permanent inability to care for the child. Involuntary foster care is implemented when a child is removed from their caregiver for his or her own personal safety. A foster parent receives monetary reimbursement from the placement agency for each foster child while the child is in his or her home to help cover the cost of meeting the child’s needs

(Dorsey et al 2008) stated that in many countries ,most of the children enter the foster care system due to neglect. Children may join the foster care system via Voluntary or involuntary means.

Voluntary placement may happen when the biological parents are facing difficulties to take care of the child.

Involuntary placement occurs when the child is being at risk under the care of the biological parents.

Adoption and Foster Care Reporting System recorded , different types of fostering such as:

(i) Foster family home, relative – A licensed or unlicensed home of the child’s relatives regarded by the state as a foster care living arrangement for the child.

(ii) Foster family home, non-relative – A licensed foster family home regarded by the state as a foster care living arrangement.

(iii)Group home or Institution – A group home is a licensed or approved home providing 24-hour care for children in a small group setting that generally has from 7 to twelve children. An Institution is a facility operated by a public or private agency and providing 24-hour care and/or treatment for children who require separation from their own homes and group living experience. These facilities may include child care institutions, residential treatment facilities, or maternity homes.

Problems in Foster Care System

[1]Foster children face a number of problems both within and outside the foster care system. Foster children are more vulnerable to neglect, abuse, family dysfunction, poverty, and severe psychological conditions. The trauma caused to a child when removed from their home is also severe and may cause depression, anger, and confusion. Studies have shown that psychological conditions of abused and neglected children are required to improve when placed in foster care, however the separation from their biological parents causing traumatic effect on the child.

Children with histories of maltreatment, such as physical and psychological neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, are often at risk of developing severe psychiatric problems and may be described as experiencing trauma-attachment problems. The trauma experienced may be the result of abuse or neglect, inflicted by a primary caregiver, which disrupts the normal development of secure attachment.

Associated Problems with Foster Care Child

In long term the foster care children suffer from psychological, cognitive and epigenetic effects. The Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study on foster care children showed that foster care children, were found to have double the incidence of depression, and were found to have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat veterans.

Tarren-Sweeny (2010) reported that Children in foster care have a higher probability of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and deficits in executive functioning, anxiety as well as other developmental problems.

Neurodevelopmental Disorder

A neurodevelopmental disorder is an impairment of the growth and development of the brain or central nervous system. It refers to a brain disorder of brain function that affects emotion,learning ability and memory and that unfolds as the individual grows.

Most foster care children are placed in foster care families at a very young age which is a critical period for the children as the development of mental and psychological processes occur during early childhood. According to kristen Rollins, the human brain does not develop fully until the age of 25, and one of the most critical periods of brain development occurs in the first 3-4 years. Therefore, the human brain is influenced by negative environmental factors such as emotional neglect, poor nutrition and exposure to violence in the home and any type of abuses.

The study by McCrory E et al ( 2010) states that the negative environmental factors influences all areas of neurodevelopment: neurogenesis (creation of new neurons), apoptosis (death and reabsorption of neurons), migration (of neurons to different regions of the brain), synaptogenesis (creation of synapses), synaptic sculpturing (determining the make-up of the synapse), arborization (the growth of dendritic connections, myelinzation (protective covering of neurons), and an enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, which can cause cortical atrophy including decreased activity of the prefrontal cortex.

Harden BJ (2004) reports that Foster children have elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in comparison to children raised by their biological parents. Elevated cortisol levels can decrease the immune system.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

According to Dubber (1999) 60% of children in foster care who were sexually abused had post traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD). 18% of children who were not abused faced PTSD just by witnessing violence at home. These children then suffer from intrusive memories, flashbacks, avoidance, and psychological and physiological reactivity.

Eating Disorders

‘ Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health’. Hudson, JI; Hiripi, E; Pope Jr, HG; Kessler, RC (2007).

According to Hadfield Sc (2008), Obesity in all age groups of children has become an increasing concern in recent years. Children in foster care are more prone to become overweight and obese, and in a study done in the United Kingdom, 35% of foster children experienced an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) once in care.

The children also suffer from Food Maintenance Syndrome which is a pattern of excessive eating and food acquisition and maintenance behaviour without concurrent obsesity. The syndrome is said to be caused by stress and maltreatment of foster care children.

Tarren-Sweeney (2006) study states that children in foster care also suffer from Food Maintenance Syndrome which is characterized by a set of aberrant eating behaviors of children in foster care. It is “a pattern of excessive eating and food acquisition and maintenance behaviors without concurrent obesity”; it resembles “the behavioral correlates of Hyperphagic Short Stature”. It is hypothesised that this syndrome is triggered by the stress and maltreatment foster children are subjected to.

Northwest Foster Care Alumini study (2011) reports that Bulimina Nervosa is seven times more prevalent among former foster children than in general population.

Epigenetic effects of environment

According to Weaver (2004) negative environmental influences, such as maternal deprivation, child abuse and stress have a profound effect on gene expression, including transgenerational epigenetic effects in which physiological and behavioral (intellectual) transfer of information across generations-not-yet-conceived is effected.

Neighh GN et al (2009) states that the effects of abuse may be extended beyond the immediate victim into subsequent generations as a consequence of epigenetic effects transmitted directly to offspring.

Suicide -Death Rate

Charles (1991) states Children in foster care families are at a greater risk of suicide. Children from foster care families as compared to general population have a risk ratio of suicidal attempts of four to five time greater.

A study conducted in Finland have indicated that children in foster care have a higher mortality rate compared to the general population due to incidence of acute and chronic medical conditions and developmental delays.(Kalland M,2001)

Academic Prospects

According to Neild Ruth et al (2006) foster care children tend to underachieve academically with many never completing high school. The children have low concentration in class and perform poorly in exams. Very few children attempt University and obtain a degree.

Barriers in foster care System

Timing in Placement

Children are more prone to experience insecurity in the foster home during the initial phase of placement, especially in the first six to seven months.(Mary Bruce Webb et al, (2010)

Peter J Pecora, James K. Whittaker et al,(2010 )suggest that older children experience placement

Stability during the initial phase compared to infants. In order to decrease the chances for placement disruption which children normally experience during the initial phase of placement, it is recommended that children develop trust and not feel lost in the system.

Characteristics of the Home

(Berridge & Cleaver, 1987) stated that children have difficulty to adapt in foster home when they are placed with other children who are roughly the same age or if they are placed in foster homes where the foster parents have children of their own. Foster Children placed with other children may feel insecure and start competing for affection and materialistic objects eventually this leads to conflicts in the foster care family.

Children’s mental and behavioral health

According to J.Gavin Bremner & Theodore D.Wachs (2010), Child behaviour problems is among the frequent reason that foster parents request the removal of a child in their care.

Children over the age of four (4) are more prone to experience placement instability due to behavioural problems. (Strijker, Zandberg, & van der Meulen, 2002)

Foster Parent Characteristics

Training and support for foster parents are of a paramount importance to avoid children experience disruption in their foster homeFoster parents who have bigger support system such as extended family are more possible to provide a secure placement for the child. .(Walsh &Walsh 1990;Redding et al 2000).

Furthermore, foster parents who seize suitable hope and understand causes and reason for a child’s behaviour is predictive of placement stability.(Butler & Charles 1999)

Counselling in the Foster Care System

Definition of counselling

Counselling often described as ‘ talking therapy’, is a process aimed at providing clients with the time and space to explore their problems, understand their problems, and resolve , or come to terms with their problems, in a confidential setting. The Royal College(2006 a) defines counselling simply as ‘a type of psychotherapy which helps people address and resolve their problems and work through their feelings’.(Jan Sutton &William stewart ,2008)

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Counselling involves the development of a relationship between the client and a trained professional that focuses on the client’s concerns and difficulties . it is a process in which individuals have the opportunity to improve upon their understanding of themselves ,including their patterns of thoughts ,behaviours ,feelings and the ways in which these may have been problematic in their lives. Counselling is a collaborative effort as it involves the client and the counsellor working together to identify goals. Throughout the counselling process the client is encouraged ,supported and empowered to look at himself/herself from a different perspective . The aim is not only to help the client cope with a current issue of crisis ,but to do so in a way that produces learning for the future ,so that the client can feel more in charge of his/her life.(M.Ravi 2008)

3.4.1 Foster Child Counselling

Williams (1994) ,Children in foster care have often suffered abuse, neglect or maltreatment. Trauma will affect children in different ways, depending on age, family support, developmental level and basic temperament.

The objective of child counselling (taken from Children and Trauma) include:

• The safe release of feeling

• Relief from symptoms and post traumatic behaviors

• Recovery of a sense of mastery and control in life

• Correction of misunderstanding and self blame

• Restoration of a sense of trust in oneself and the future

• Minimizing the scars of trauma

• Development of specific skills or coping tools

The Therapy is meant to be a process to work through trauma and help a child understand what has happened to him/her. It also aims to help a child function better in the world around him /her.

3.4.2 Foster Family Counselling

(Fernandez Elizabeth, 2010) Therapy does not change family dynamics. Placing a child in therapy will help the child but will not fix the problems in the family. Family counselling offers a better chance at successful family reunification.

Nevertheless, steps need to be taken to provide assistance to the child and foster family who are in need of counselling. Thus, counsellors and therapists need to construct a relationship based on mutual trust for the counselling process to begin.

According to Silva (1991), to establish therapeutic mutual trust, there need to be the following requirements:

Accurate Empathy: The therapist conveys his or her understanding of the child’s background and experience;

Genuineness: The therapist is as spontaneous, tactful, flexible, and non-defensive as possible;

Availability: The therapist is accessible and available (within reason) when needed, and avoids making promises and commitments he or she cannot realistically keep;

Respect: This is both gracious and firm, and acknowledges the child’s sense of autonomy, control, and responsibility within the therapeutic relationship. Respect is manifested by the therapist’s general attitude, as well as by certain specific actions

Concreteness: Therapy should, at least initially be goal-oriented and have a problem-solving focus. Foster parents are into action and results, and to the extent that it is clinically realistic, the therapeutic approach should emphasise active, problem-solving approaches before tackling more sensitive and complex psychological issues.

Counselling Strategies and Techniques

Blau (1994) recommends that the first meeting between the therapist and the child establish a safe and comfortable working atmosphere by the therapist’s articulating :

a positive endorsement of the foster parents decision to seek help;

a clear description of the therapist’s responsibilities and limitations with respect to confidentiality and privilege; and

Blau (1994) also delineates a number of effective intervention strategies for foster children including the following:

Attentive Listening: This includes good eye contact, appropriate body language, and genuine interest, without inappropriate comment or interruption.

Empathy: This therapeutic attitude conveys availability, concern, and awareness of the turbulent emotions being experienced by the traumatised children.

Reassurance: In acute bahvioural situations, this should take the form of realistically reassuring the child that matters will be taken care of.

Supportive Counselling: This includes effective listening, restatement of content, clarification of feelings, and reassurance.

In appropriate cases, this therapeutic strategy can stimulate the officer to explore underlying emotional stresses that intensify a naturally stressful traumatic event. In a few cases, this may lead to ongoing psychotherapy (Miller, 2006).


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