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Foster care practice in Spain: an outcomes assessment approach


Background. Foster care has been defined as a child welfare service which provides substitute family care for a planned period for a child when his own family cannot care for him during a temporary or extended period. Since the 80's foster care in Spain has been seen as the positive alternative to institutionalization; however, research on foster care in this country has been very scarce and just in last ten years has started to appear some significant pieces of research in this field.

Purpose. This study provides information about kinship foster care and non relative foster care, focusing on the profiles of main characters (including children fostered, their biological families and the kinship and non kinship foster families), the processes of placement, and the results of the foster care.

Method. The sample was 649 children of welfare recipients in the six regions with more foster care activity in Spain, who entered foster care between 1996 and 2006 (50% finished and 50% still working). In this sample, 30% of children in kinship care and 18% in non kinship care reunified with their parents, while 37% and 16% remained in foster care when the intervention was finished respectively. Over the 21% of children experienced a disruption or breakdown of their placement.

Key findings. Regarding the children profile, the 7.4% of the whole sample has a different nationality (not Spanish). Concerning the age when looked after, the average is significantly higher in the group of children in kinship family. The age when fostered for the sample is about 7 years old, without differences between kinship and foster family care. Nevertheless, analysing the groups of age in foster families the bigger group is from 4 to 8 years old, whereas for the kinship families the bigger groups are two: less than 3 years old (0-3 years) and older than 13. In the total sample of the study, 6% of the children show some type of handicap and results present more than twice of cases of handicapped children (8%) in foster family that in kinship family group (3%). In addition, the seriousness of the handicap/disability is also higher in foster family group. Foster family sample also shows a significantly higher number of children with disabilities (physical, psychic and sensory), hyperactivity and developmental delays.

The most common reasons for becoming a looked after child are physical negligence and impossible fulfilment of paternal obligations, with a higher frequency of sexual abuse among girls and of total abandon among boys. The purpose of the intervention is the continuity for the majority of the cases, in both kinship and non kinship family. Regarding other previous interventions that children could have before this foster care, a wide proportion of the sample (83%) has had some type of previous intervention by Child Welfare services. The previous interventions of residential care and foster care are much more frequent for children with foster families (non kinship). The most usual previous situation in kinship care was informal kinship care.

Concerning the birth parents profile, the most frequent situation among fathers was the marginality in the 41% of the cases, without differences between both types of foster families. Regarding the mother, the most common situation in foster family is the marginal activity (followed by unemployment) and in kinship family group we have the same results, but in different order (unemployment and marginal activity). In relation to the psychosocial problems, as regards the father we can see significant differences for the variables of drug addiction, prison, delinquency, chronic illness and disability. All of them are significantly higher in kinship family group. With reference to the mothers, the most frequent problems are drug addiction followed by severe economic problems and mental disorder. There are significant differences between both types of foster care in relation to the higher presence of drug addiction in the mothers of kinship family group.

Contacts: Jorge F. del Valle, Child and Family Research Group. University of Oviedo, Facultad de Psicología. Plaza Feijoo s/n. 33003 Oviedo, Spain, E-mail:jvalle@uniovi.es, Phone +34 985 103246, Fax +985 104141.

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