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Family relationships in a sample of non relative foster families from Madrid: The representation of the family «confines» and the place of the birth family


The well-being of children in non parental foster care is related with several factors with some complexity. These include the type of relationship that the foster family has with the birth family and the role that the presence of the biological family has either in real and symbolic level in family relationships. Research about non parental foster care indicates that it is crucial for the well-being of the child the existence of an adequate presence of the biological family on the affective development goal of the child (Haight, Kagle, Black 2003). In this paper we analyse how children live the relationship with both poles in a sample of families from Madrid in order to clarify which factors promote proper bonding experience of this double link and the extent to which foster families require adequate guidance to help ensure the maximum well-being of these children.

This paper is part of a larger research conducted by University CEU San Pablo in Madrid, within the Child Study Centre. In this research we studied how 26 families of Madrid with children in permanent non relative foster care (dominant mode of foster care in Madrid) live different aspects of family relationships. Placements in Madrid have a peculiar profile, as in the case plan with which we work in virtually all placements, it is hardly contemplated the possibility of reunification of children with their birth family, since working with biological families is almost non-existent.

Aim. Our paper focuses particularly on the issue of double linkage of these children (with their biological and the foster family) and aims to contribute to highlight the positive aspects of their experiences in relation with the presence of the birth family in family relationships and to indicate possible measures to apply in order to improve those most deficient aspects. The shortage of studies concerning non parental family foster care in Spain, specifically in Madrid, gives to the line of research mentioned in the San Pablo CEU University a special interest, especially in this particular moment in which policies in this region are making particular emphasis on intent statement, in order to promote the practice of this measure with the objective of reducing the number of institutionalized children, the current policy priority.

Method. In this paper we present the results obtained after the realization of a semi structured interview and the projective test provided to 26 families. It analyses what comes out of them about the role that the presence of the biological family of children has on family relationships of the children and their foster families. We analyse both verbal and nonverbal expressions that provide information on the role of the natural family that result from interviews and drawings made with the guidelines of a test designed to analyse the representations of the familiar confines or boundaries. In these drawings (76 pictures) first parents, then children and afterwards all together represent the persons that are important for them and are invited to show, according to them, who they say are part of the same family and if they would like this to be another way. Conducting the test in a consecutive way, that is performed individually, also allows to analyse if there exists distortion between what the various interviewees expressed individually and what they do in front of the rest of the family, i.e. to analyse the degree of freedom this issue is lived with (Greco, Iafrate 2001).

Through 26 interviews conducted with families and children it has been analysed the spontaneous communication present in them on a verbal level, identifying the way in which the foster family refers to the presence of the natural family: if they refer to it with affection or suspiciousness, with distance, neutrality, or the presence of solidary or inclusive remarks referring to the family, or if the verbal demonstrations shows a difficulty in the experience of the relationship with the mentioned unit. Subsequently it has been analysed if the children speak in a spontaneous way or not with the original family, and what terms and style they are using when speaking about them, and if they establishe verbal relationships between them and the foster family or expresse desires about it, or if there are tensions and mismatches in living the presence of the biological family. The presence or not of the distortion between what the foster family and the child verbalize or show gesturally when they express alone and what they verbalize when they are interviewed, has helped us to value if the relationship between the child and his foster family is healthily free and defined by confidence or, on the contrary, there are clues of the existence of censored or conflictive aspects in relationship with the way of understanding the role of the natural family by both parties.

We have analyzed if the foster family and the fostered child, when they're requested to draw the people they feel close and important, spontaneously find a place for the biological family of the child or if it is necessary to ask them in a specific way. Later, it is important to know if they have placed the biological family among the people that they feel as part of their world or, on the contrary, if they have left them outside.

Findings. The results of this research present aspects to be taken into account for enhancing practices and also prove that families have special needs for the enhance of their relations and the experiences of everyone involved.

Our work shows that the «inclusive» foster families can give more well being to their children (Leathers 2002).

Conclusion. It is the necessity to detect, before the beginning of the placement, those families that have problems to let their children being in contact with their born families in order to help them with the missing elements of their approaches and thus prevent difficult situations for these children. From the results it emerges that many families in Madrid, that are really looking for an adoption, become finally foster families and therefore many times they need help in order to provide the children with an adequate context that lets them a good and health development (Grigsby 1994).

Key references

Greco, O., Iafrate, R. (2001). Figlie al confine, una ricerca multimetodologica sull'affidamento familiare. Milano: Franco Angeli.

Grigsby, R.K. (1994). Maintaining attachment relationships among children in foster care. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 75, 269-276.

Haight, W.L., Kagle, J.D. and Black, J.E. (2003). Understanding and supporting parent-child relationship during foster care visits: Attachment theory and research. Social Work, 48, 195-207.

Leathers, S. (2002). Parental visiting and family reunification: Could inclusive practice make a difference? Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program, 81(4), 595-616. 

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