Learning from foster carers : the experience of fostering and mental health service provision
The current study used a grounded theory approach to better understand the experiences of foster carers with regards to how they understood and coped with the emotional and behavioural problems of children in their care and what types of support they required from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Background: In recent years, there has been an increasing research interest in the qualitative experiences of foster carers, given the demands they face in the current context of child-care policy. Previous studies have focused on narrative accounts and specific aspects of experience, such as dealing with difficulties and support. There is, however, a lack of research using grounded theory to explore their experiences in detail. Over the last two years, following the government's "Quality Protects" initiative, new specialist mental health services for looked after children and their carers have been set up around the country. Given these recent service developments and limited research into their role with foster carers as yet, foster carers' views and experiences of CAMHS are valuable in informing future service provision for this client group. Method: In-depth, subjective accounts of eight foster carers from six foster families employed in one local authority were obtained through interviews. Results: Four major and inter-linking categories emerged from the interviews relating to ambivalent relationships with the children in their care, the children's parents and wider services, including CAMHS. However, one core category subsumed all of these categories and was referred to as the inherent contradiction in the foster carers' role - that of being a parent, but at the same time being a professional. Discussion: The themes that emerged from the interviews with the foster carers related to previous literature on their experiences and issues of support. The findings had implications in terms of specialist psychological support and consultation to foster carers.