Managing the transition to foster family status : the experience of carers’ own children
Children in today’s society live in ever-changing family forms. Children are the least likely of all family members to be the initiators of family transitions, yet they are profoundly involved. With a focus on child-centred care (e.g. The Children’s Act, 1989), there is an acknowledgment that it is important to understand the experiences of children living in these various family structures. The ‘foster family’ is one such form of family life in which children live. A common occurrence within foster families is that carers' own children are present within the home (Berridge & Cleaver, 1987). This study explored how carers' own children managed the transition to living as a foster family. Using a Grounded Theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), five children (four males and one female) aged between 9 and 15 years old were contacted through an Independent Fostering Agency and interviewed about their experiences of having foster children coming to live within their families. Participants and their families had been fostering for a total of between 6 months and 14 years, and these included short-term, long-term and specialist fostering placements. The analysis identified that participants went through a central process of redefining their families in the transition to living as a foster family. Within this, an explanatory process model was developed comprising four main categories of experience. These represented participants' awareness of change within their families, attempts to search for an explanatory framework to understand the changes, and of locating their own family and themselves within this new family structure. There are a number of clinical implications highlighted by this study. Children actively try to make sense of changes to their family and it is important that families and fostering services aid children in this process. It highlights a need for the whole family to be involved in preparation and training, and for comprehensive support packages to be put in place. The role of the Clinical Psychologist within this process is discussed.