Foster carers' perspectives : the dilemmas of loving the bureaucratised child
This research explores the lived experiences of foster carers - how they understand their position. Based on a constructionist, sociological approach it focuses on their personal diverse experiences and perspectives. It contributes to current sociological debates about childhood, contemporary morality and individualisation and considers the relevance of these for social policy. The literature review indicates that foster carers are undervalued and marginalised, precariously balanced at the edges of the several (conceptual) worlds of caring, family, "public" bureaucracy and "private" home life. These ambiguities are considered through 46 in-depth interviews of a heterogeneous sample which reveal lives full of paradoxes and conflict. Carers justify this because of the needs of the children who are frequently considered to be worth any sacrifice and regarded as priceless in terms of their meaningfulness and emotional value. Yet foster children are bureaucratised - their carers have limited autonomy and are compromised in most areas of their lives by the children's "differences". Anti-social behaviour is excused by the carers, and any blame attached to the children's birth families and the social service departments. Carers create their own rewards through the children. They position themselves, in relation to the children, as potentially very powerful in terms of the possibility of changing and thereby "saving" them via a particularistic loving tie. The official role of most carers is to prepare each child for a move, preferably back to their biological family. But the carers' love of and commitment to each child may be in tension with the maintenance of children's contact with their birth relatives and thus create a dilemma for all involved. Foster care provides an identity of care. By contrast with debates on contemporary morality which posit a potential collision between the two ethics of care of self and of child care it is argued that, for foster carers, these are mutually compatible. An ethic of self care is served through their devotion to the children's needs. Caring reassures foster carers that they count.