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Motivation for foster care


Aim. In 2011 in Flanders 3641 foster parents realized 6371 foster placements. Foster parents have many reasons to become a foster parent. American families give on average 6.6 (sd=2.8) reasons for fostering (Rhodes, et al. 2006a). Beside child-centered reasons, self-oriented and society-oriented reasons can be distinguished.

Most American foster parents have child-centered reasons for fostering, wanting to help a child, wanting to provide a child with love and a good home, wanting to provide a home to a child who would otherwise be in an institution and so on (Rhodes et al. 2006a). Circa 50% of the foster parents believe foster care is a way to do something for the community and, thus, have a society-oriented reason (Rhodes, et al., 2006a). Earlier research found foster parent's motivations to be predictive for the success of a foster placement (Baum, Crase & Crase 2001; Buehler, Cox & Cuddeback 2003), the total number of children fostered, the number of years fostered (Rhodes, et al. 2006a) and the development of secure attachments (Cole 2005).

Unfortunately research regarding motivations to foster is scarce, with conflicting and inconclusive findings. Moreover, in Flanders no research is done into the reasons for fostering.

Method. This study examined the motivations of 200 Flemish non-kinship foster parents to become a foster parent. A Dutch version of «Reasons for fostering inventory» was used (Rhodes, et al. 2006b). The Dutch adaptation contains 24 items instead of the original 33 items. Nine items were deleted because they weren't relevant for the Dutch situation. Half the 24 items can be grouped (by factor analysis) into three subscales: child-centered reasons (3 items, α= 0.573), self-oriented reasons (7 items, α= 0.625) and society-oriented reasons (2 items, α=0.533). The other half can't be grouped, but can be used as 1-item scales.

Also the scoring format was changed. Rhodes et al. (2006a) concluded in their research that measurement using an ordinal scale would be beneficial. Therefore, respondents were asked to indicate on a 4-point scale (from not true at all to very true), instead of a yes/no scale, if the item represented the reason why they wanted to be foster parents. If a respondent scores the item with very true or with true, the item is considered endorsed by the respondent. At the end of the inventory respondents were asked to indicate which item is the best description of their motivation.

Findings. Foster parents reported on average 8.95 (sd = 2.56) motivations for fostering, with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 17 reasons. Flemish foster parents' main motivations for fostering tended to be child-centered. For respectively 99% and 98% of foster parents «I want to provide a good home for a child» and «I want to provide a child with love» were a reason to start fostering. They endorsed significantly more child-centered reasons (μ= 10.88, sd= 1.22) than self-oriented (μ= 9.66, sd= 2.86) and society-oriented reasons (μ= 5.69, sd=1.54) (F(2)=412.73, p<.001). Child-centered reasons were more endorsed than self-oriented (t (199)=5.601, p<0.001), and society-oriented reasons (t(199)= 43.801, p<0.001). Also self-oriented reasons were more endorsed than society-oriented reasons (t(199)=18.597, p<0.001). With a Bonferroni correction significant levels are still p<0.005.

The endorsement of child-centered reasons varied from 94 to 99%, of society-oriented reasons from 71.5 to 72.5% and of self-oriented reasons from 6 to 25%. 160 foster parents indicated their best description. For 63% of those foster parents a child-centered reason was the best description, with «I want to provide a good home for a child» the most common endorsed reason (42%). Self-oriented reasons were never the best description. Both the society-oriented reasons were for 11% of those foster parents the best description.

From the other reasons, not grouped in a subscale, a large amount of foster parents respectively 95%, 85.5% and 73% endorsed also «I want to provide a home so a child won't have to be put in an institution», «I know a foster child and want to help» and «I know foster parents and I think it suits us too». Also 66% of foster parents wanted to foster because they wanted to receive love of a child and 44% wanted a foster child to enlarge their family with.

Conclusions. In contrast with American foster families, Flemish foster parents gave on average more reasons for fostering. Maybe the introduction of the four point scale explains this different result.

Flemish foster parents mainly had child-centered reasons to become a foster parent, for two third of foster parents child-centered reasons were the best description for their reasons to start fostering. Society-oriented reasons were less, but self-oriented reasons far less endorsed. That last category of reasons were never the best description for foster parents.

We also found that foster parents wanted to foster because they want to receive love from a child and because they want to enlarge their family. This is surprising, since Flemish foster care agencies screen foster parents and those reasons are not compatible with their goals. Probably foster parents gave, besides these incompatible reasons, more compatible reasons as well (Rhodes et al. 2006a).

A large amount of foster parents started fostering because they knew a child, knew a foster family or wanted to prevent that a child has to be put in an institution. Apparently foster parents can recruit new foster parents just by giving a good example to aspirant foster parents. Secondly not only the Flemish Youth Welfare Agencies see foster care as the first choice for out-of home placements, it's a natural choice for foster parents too and maybe for parents in general.

Assessment of reasons for fostering is needed to examine if they are compatible with the goals of the foster care agencies.

Further research is necessary. Longitudinal research into the predictive value of reasons for fostering for the success of foster placements is needed, as well as research surveying not only active foster parents.

Key references

Baum, A., Crase, S. and Crase, K. (2001). Influences on the decision to become or not become a foster parent. Families in society, 82, 202-213.

Buehler, C., Cox, M. E. and Cuddeback, G. (2003). Foster parents' perceptions of factors that promote or inhibit successful fostering. Qualitative Social Work, 2, 61-83.

Cole, S.A. (2005). Foster Caregiver Motivation and Infant Attachment: How do reasons for fosterinhgaffect relationships. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 22, 441-457.

Rhodes, K., Cox, E., Orme, J. and Coakley, T. (2006a). Foster parents' reason for fostering and foster family utilization. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 33, 105-126.

Rhodes, K., Cox, E., Orme, J., Coakley, T., Buehler, C. and Cuddeback, G. (2006b). Casey Home Assessment protocol (Chap) User's manual (2nd ed.). Knoxville, Tn: University of Tennessee: Children's Mental Health Services Research centre.

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