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Paper

The challenges for family foster care of children in the Province of Bolzano: trend analysis 2005-2012

abstract

Aim. This paper analyses the trend, the needs and the criticalities of (full-time and part-time) foster care in the Province of Bolzano in the period 2005-2012 with the aim of highlighting the challenges for administrators, professionals of the services and other parties involved in this area of action and which are the measures and the needs for initiatives for the future.

How does it work? The main actors of the child foster care network in the Province of Bolzano are (Vademecum, Autonomous Province of Bolzano 2012):

1. at the provincial level, the «Family women and youth office», that has the responsibility for the planning, monitoring (through a uniform documentation system), coordinating and guiding within the foster care (Province social plan, Autonomous Province of Bolzano 2008).

2. at the municipal level, the District communities (a total of 7) and the Azienda servizi sociali of Bolzano with its district social services (a total of 24), which belongs to the area of basic social-pedagogical assistance (which, together with the basic economical assistance, the home care and the social secretariat form the social district) and which is in charge of the direct management of foster care.

The District social services ensure the technical coordination and the support to the foster family before and during foster care through the foster project development and work with the birth family, in order to recover their strengths and encourage the reunification, which is always the ultimate goal of such foster projects (Children foster care information brochure, Autonomous Province of Bolzano 2012).

3. at the territorial level, the social private organizations (family counselling offices, other associations in the field).

The cooperation with the family counselling offices is linked to the evaluation of the families or persons applying for foster care. The family counselling offices are partially involved also in the information and preparation phase as well as in the support and advice to the families and to the foster carers.

Compared to other Italian regions, in the Province of Bolzano the cooperation with the associations in the foster care field is not particularly developed yet.

4. The juvenile justice of Bolzano.

The state of the art. It has been observed that in the Province of Bolzano foster care has an important tradition, linked both to the context and the rural environment, and to a very strong family vision. Due to the cultural and social changes this supportive attitude is no longer so strong as it used to be. The experience and the data of the last years show how it becomes increasingly difficult to find suitable foster parents ready to face this delicate task. Since 2009 to 2012 the number of foster carers and families has decreased from 142 to 107, with a drop of 24,65%.

From 2005 onwards, also the number of children placed in foster care has been varying continuously, mainly influenced by the real need that varies from year to year. The decrease in the number of foster carers and families seems however connected to a drop of family foster care cases. In 2010 the total number rises again to 330, whereas in 2012 it decreases to 236, with a drop of 28,48% that involves both full-time and part-time foster care.

While part-time foster care is used also as a preventive measure aimed at supporting families in difficulty, so that the child can, as required by the national law, continue to grow within its own household, full-time foster care frequently represents the last resort in the helping process. Here there is a strong contradiction in the national law itself, that on one hand sets the time limit of 24 months, automatically implying a preventive action in the sense of recoverable families of origin and natural parents, on the other hand, however, it sets forth that the parents' conditions of poverty shall not be an obstacle to the exercise of the right of the child to its own family. Not by chance there are frequently very serious cases where the actions taken before the foster care have led to no improvement. This is confirmed by the rather high number of judicial foster care cases (in 2012 85,94%). From this point of view professionals involved in the foster care are facing a real challenge when it comes to evaluating the recovery of parents and acting in a preventive manner. Often children have already reached a certain age and developed a bond with their family and, in most cases, it is possible to evaluate if the child can go back to its family only in the course of the foster care. The so-called «sine die» foster care cases remain a somehow inevitable reality.

This is confirmed by the high number of children placed in full-time foster care with duration over 48 months and by the fact that the majority of children in full-time foster care is in school age (56,2%), while the part-time foster care is applied more frequently to smaller children under 5 years of age (23,13%).

The causes and criticalities of this development certainly need to be further examined and analysed, but it is a fact that:

- the «traditional» foster family, directed by pure solidarity, no longer exists or exists only marginally (lack of social security: the regional law of February 18th 2001, n. 1 sets forth, for the time being, the only possibility of voluntary social security contribution; excessively low reward[1] (guidelines of basic social-pedagogical assistance, 2013); too many responsibilities and demands exceeding the capacities of a «normal» family or person; fears, insecurities, but also prejudices towards the institute of foster care; difficulties in the conciliation between family and work);

- increasingly complex and difficult to handle situations. The main reason for the foster care is linked to the problem on the side of the parents. In most cases the problems we are speaking of are addiction or also mental health problems, which interfere with the educational capacity of the parent. Frequently the foster families are not prepared enough for these difficult situations. In order to avoid traumatic interruptions for the children, the professionals tend to choose a residential or semi-residential facility for children which offers, from this point of view, more security and less conflict potential (a birth family accepts a facility more easily than another family);

- the criteria to become foster parents (preparation, evaluation) imply for the applicants a greater expenditure of time, but also the readiness to question their assumptions;

- the time resources of the professionals involved in the foster care are not everywhere the same (support and advice to the foster families);

- lack of network between the foster parents;

- the limit of 24 months restrains the professionals in the choice of this action.

 

The challenges and the needs of our Province. Hence, the major challenges identified over the last years with regard to the foster care in the Province of Bolzano are:

- difficulty in finding new foster families and carers (social changes...);

- crisis of the foster care model based on solidarity;

- difficulty in keeping the availability of foster parents constant in time;

- growing complexity of the cases /family situations;

- time limit of two years imposed by the national law. Does reunification always mean a full return of the child to its family or can it acquire also different forms? (in particularly complex cases, where the return of the child is no longer possible although expected at the beginning of the foster project, and where the start of an adoption process is not in the interest of the child);

- assessment of the foster parenthood suitability in case of foster to relatives within the 4th degree. These are frequently complex foster cases requiring an even closer preparation and monitoring than the non kinship fostering. On this aspect also the juvenile Justice is being involved and sensitized in order to require by principle a preliminary evaluation of the relatives too.

The following points are identified as possible intervention measures and need for development:

- intensification of information and awareness activities;

- strengthening of the parenthood training (both basic and during the fostering);

- development of third sector associations;

- experimentation with new forms of foster care (professional families, homocultural fostering, «first aid» families);

- further development of the assessment process of the foster parenthood suitability in case of kinship within the 4th degree;

- intensification of the support phase;

- developing a common culture and language: foster care as a preventive measure.

The challenges and the criticalities identified in the Province of Bolzano resemble in some ways those reported generally on the whole national territory. Wondering about the outcomes and effectiveness of this rather important action in the juvenile protection is a novelty so far little explored requiring greater commitment by all the people involved.

Key references

Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Department 24 Family and social policies (2008). Provincial social plan 2007-2009. Bolzano: Autonomous Province of Bolzano.

Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Office 24.1 Family women and youth (2012a). Children foster care Information brochure. Bolzano: Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Department 24 Family and social policies.

Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Office 24.1 Family women and youth (2012b). Vademecum children foster care. Bolzano: Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Department 24 Family and social policies.

Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Office 24.1 Family women and youth (2013). Guidelines of basic social-pedagogical Assistance of children. Bolzano: Autonomous Province of Bolzano-Department 24 Family and social policies.

 


[1] The foster carers are entitled to a monthly reward whose amount varies according to the full-time or part-time nature of the foster care. The amounts are adjusted annually by the provincial Council and paid by the territorial social services. The reward is a reimbursement of expenses for maintenance, upbringing and education of the child and does therefore not constitute taxable income.

 

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