The experience of growing up in foster care : pathways from childhood to adulthood
This study is an investigation of long-term foster care, which focuses on the reflections of 40
adults, aged 18-30, who grew up in foster families. The theoretical approach taken is
developmental and the study draws on theories of attachment and resilience.
The research method was qualitative. In-depth interviews were conducted, transcribed and
analysed in order to generate a picture of the pathways taken through childhood and into
adult life. The primary focus of the interviews was on family relationships and the
development of the self, but relationships with peers, school experiences and practice
relevant issues, such as what it meant to be `in care', the experience of stigma and the role of
social workers, were also discussed.
The analysis used the dimensions of placement continuity, the quality of family relationships
and the nature of family membership to identify seven different pathways. The data suggests
that although the development of secure emotional relationships is an important part of
successful placement experiences, the development of a sense of family membership is also
highly significant, particularly in adult life. In a psychosocial model of long-term foster
care, a `secure base' can therefore be understood in attachment terms as an emotional
resource, but can also be understood in a more social context, as providing a family identity
and a place in society.
The study concludes that foster families where there are no biological or legal ties can still
be a form of permanent family placement. This has important implications for social work
practice, both in the way in which placements are planned and in the importance of
promoting continuity into adult life of relationships which officially end when a child leaves
care. It requires a change in attitudes, so that long-term foster families are no longer treated
as placements for childhood only, but are recognised as offering a home and a family for life