What Motivates Foster Parents?

Who seems to be enjoying the jog more? .

Foster parents are kind and caring people. It takes a good heart to step up and care for a child unrelated to you (foster care) or even related to you (kinship foster care). We found a great piece of research on what motivates foster parents by Tracy E. MacGregor, Susan Rodger, Anne L. Cummings, and Alan W. Leschied. titled “The needs of foster parents: A qualitative study of motivation, support, and retention.” in the journal Qualitative Social Work Vol. 5, no. 3 (2006): pages 351-368.

Here is a summary of intrinsic and extrinsic and motivators based on research in the US and elsewhere:

Intrinsic motivators: These are your internal motivators because this is the person you are. One or more motivations should be there if you are thinking of foster parenting. These are not in any particular order:

  • Empty Nesters: Your own children have grown and left the home. You do want to take care of children who need you. You have interest in foster parenting.
  • Wanting to adopt children/increase family size: This motivation is for wanting to adopt children. You might start with fostering with some intention to adopt eventually.
  • Provide company for an only child: This is also one of the motivations. Your child is alone and another child can provide company.
  • Societal influences like religion: How religious you are can be an important motivator.
  • Former foster child: You could be a former foster child or have relatives that had foster children. This might make you more aware of the needs of foster children. And now you want to step up.
  • Feel Blessed and want to give back: You feel that you are blessed and want to give back by caring for someone less fortunate.
  • Want to provide a stable home environment: You want to provide a stable environment to a foster child as you see yourself as capable of doing so. This one is a critical requirement and this is something prospective foster parents need to ask themselves.
  • Help Children-Love Children: This could be someone who generally loves children and loves taking care of children.
  • Feeling responsible for a child relative who needs foster care: An added intrinsic motivator is from Susan Rodger, Anne Cummings, and Alan W. Leschied. “Who is caring for our most vulnerable children?: The motivation to foster in child welfare.” Child abuse & neglect 30, no. 10 (2006): 1129-1142. This one is about feeling responsible for a child relative who needs foster care. Also called kinship foster care, there is evidence that kinship care can work well as discussed in an earlier post.

Extrinsic motivators: These are external motivators. They come after you have one or more internal motivators as above.

The monetary stipend: Research indicates that foster parents are not primarily motivated by the stipend awarded to start fostering. Yes, it provides you some supplementary funds to do good without being out of pocket. However, research also indicates that people stop foster care because they find the stipend to be inadequate for the level of “work” that is involved. Thus, unless there are strong internal motivators a foster parent might want to give up. And naturally that is disastrous for the foster child. For there is nothing sadder than a child being moved from one foster home to another for any reason.

To summarize, prospective foster parents need to ask themselves about their internal (intrinsic) motivators.

About StartFosterCare.org

Mental health issues: foster kids vs. public

Do foster kids suffer more health issues than kids in the general public?

Many prospective foster parents hesitate from stepping up to become a foster parent. One of the concerns is the potential mental health issues of foster kids. The concern is valid because if you are a kid and are removed from your difficult biological family situation there are two sources of stress. The first is the maltreatment endured in the biological family and the second is the stress of moving and adjusting to a new foster family.

There is a segment of kids that grow up in biological families and have mental health issues. The question is whether foster care kids are any more likely to have mental health issues than the the general public where there is evidence of maltreatment.

The answer to this fascinating question has become available in a research paper from Montreal, Canada just this month. The paper is:

Dubois-Comtois, K., Bussières, E. L., Cyr, C., St-Onge, J., Baudry, C., Milot, T., & Labbé, A. P. (2021). Are children and adolescents in foster care at greater risk of mental health problems than their counterparts? A meta-analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 106100.

Dubois-Comtois et. al. 2021

The authors conduct a meta-analysis or a summary of prior research on the topic by summarizing the data from 41 studies that did some comparison of mental health in foster kids and kids in the public. While 26 of these studies were in the U.S. other countries were also included. These were England (3) , Belgium (2) , and one in each of the following countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Spain, and Turkey. According to the authors the studies were published between 1988 and 2017.

Here is an overview of how the authors identified the 41 studies:

Source: Dubois-Comtois et. al. 2021

The research is methodologically rigorous and includes unpublished studies like dissertations. Including unpublished studies is a neat technique because published studies tend to be only the ones that show strong effects. Ph.D. dissertations that are still being written up for journals might also get excluded if only published studies are reviewed. The authors use an interesting software Meta-Analysis.com to analyze the data from the 41 studies.

Here is what we take away from this excellent paper:

  • Maltreatment drives mental health issues: When compared to the general public foster care kids (by almost definition maltreated) seem to have a similar level of mental health issues like maltreated kids in functional families in the general public. In other words, maltreatment is a prime reason to move the kid to foster care. While in foster care these kids are no more likely to develop mental health challenges than maltreated kids in “normal” homes. To clarify, maltreatment need not be a necessary cause of mental illness. [Disclaimer: We are not mental health experts please consult a mental health professional].
  • Stability helps: Whether at a kinship or unrelated foster home a sense of stability at the new home helps foster kids cope better. This is a recurring theme at our meetings and its interesting that this is brought up in the context of mental health.
  • Professional support matters after placement: Once a kid is placed in foster care, professional support can make all the difference. This includes licensed social workers, psychologists,psychiatrists who are available for counselling. It is therefore important for prospective foster parents to know what type of support the foster care organization will be able to provide.

About StartFosterCare.org

Who enters Foster Care in the US?

We were fascinated with the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) data that provides a great overview of the nationwide foster care challenge. Here is the table from the AFCARS data for 2019 reported in 2020 . This is for children entering foster care in 2019.

Since this table is useful to both prospective foster parents and foster care professionals given the kinds of questions we heard at our May National Foster Care meetings here is a brief discussion:

Biological Families Do Work: There were 73 million children in the US in 2019 according to the Children’s Defence Fund. Seen as a percentage of the total child population the number of children entering foster care is about 0.34%. This is extremely positive because it indicates that more than 99% kids are in their biological families. A small fraction has a problem at their biological home. Generally the American Family is strong!

What Age do kids enter foster care?: The age table and median age suggests that majority of the children are between 6-7. One of the interesting discussion points at our last month’s meetings was that younger kids are not able to articulate what is bothering them. Hence they can act out at the foster home. It is here that the skill and patience of the foster parent comes in. Teenagers are able to articulate their feelings and in that sense the foster parent is more likely to know what is bothering them.

Race of kids entering foster care: One prospective foster parent had enquired whether we have sessions in Spanish at StartFosterCare.org. Foster care professionals at the local level probably need to consider offering sessions in Spanish (21%) depending on their local needs. As explained in our Kinship care or Foster Care post, this is a local effort in the community , and Spanish speaking foster parents are more likely to be able to connect with the biological parents.

Why Children are moved to foster care?: This section of the table above is fascinating. 64% Children are removed for neglect. There are 39 parental behaviors that are associated with Child neglect according to Maughan and Moore (2010). They studied predictors of adult delinquency and came out with two predictors from a parent behavior point of view. These are supervision and a disorganized/chaotic home environment that predicted adult delinquency. We need to do more research on exactly how “neglect” is defined in the foster care system. Interestingly, we heard foster care professionals keep emphasizing the need for prospective foster parents to provide supervision and a stable home environment to the foster child. Exactly what keeps the general population away from delinquency!

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US Child Poverty: never been to McDonald’s

McDonald’s can be a special treat- StartFosterCare.org

Our May 29th event provided new insight to the situation of some foster kids. We were shocked to learn that some kids come from biological families that are so poor that they have never been to McDonald’s.

Our dear US readers (because you are reading this post on your smartphone,tablet or computer) might find this hard to believe. For a McDonald’s burger in the wealthy parts of the world is the cheapest cooked food you can buy.

In marketing terms, since only the affluent in poorer countries can buy a McDonald’s burger, the prices and experience is adjusted. Price is adjusted downward and the experience seems more exclusive.In these parts McDonald’s is marketed more as a premium experience than the commoner’s fast food. The Big Mac index of the Economist explains the very popular PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) concept.

It turns out that a foster parent might give the first chance to the foster child to have the special experience of going to McDonald’s. Yes the financial support (the stipend) that foster parents receive helps in creating these small pleasures. But to think that in the US there are many poor kids who cannot go to McDonald’s even rarely as a”special treat” is heartbreaking.

Child poverty in the US is a big topic and numerous good organizations are trying to make a dent in the problem. A great example is RedNoseDay.org. This year RedNoseDay was on May 27, 2021 just two days before our May 29 event. A YouTube video featuring Paul Rudd and Julia Roberts gives a sense of the broader challenge.

Johnisha Levi has a great article Addressing Child Poverty Beyond the Pandemic. Even after the massive Government stimulus, challenges will remain. We quote:

The Center on Social Policy at Columbia University has estimated that the American Rescue Plan will cut the child poverty rate by as much as 56% this year, which would affect children of all races. The poverty rate for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous children, who are disproportionately affected by both poverty and COVID-19, would decline by 52%, 45% and 61% percent, respectively

Source: Johnisha Levi

Child poverty includes children from families that are functional and those that are not able to function. It is the latter that creates a foster child who needs care.

To think that a foster parent can directly make a difference, without spending their own money, is one more motivation for us at StartFosterCare.org.

We wish everyone a great Memorial Day Weekend!

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Foster Child Stability: Is Authoritative or Authoritarian parenting better?

Authoritative or Authoritarian? StartFosterCare.org

We had a very successful first virtual meeting on May 19,2021 between prospective foster parents and foster care professionals. Some of the parents had a lot of knowledge about foster parenting and had new questions that sparked spirited discussion. One of the questions was between authoritative and authoritarian parenting.

There is a great article on Parentingforbrain.com that explains the difference between authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles. We quote a nice table that summarizes the differences:

Source: Parentingbrain.com , accessed May 25, 2021

While the above applies to all kinds of families the question is what is better for foster parenting?

We look at the issue from the start:

  • Question 1: Why does a child need foster care in the first place?
    • Answer 1: Because the biological family is unable to care for the child.
  • Question 2: What is needed most in a foster home?
    • Answer (strictly our take, please feel free to disagree) A sense of stability for the foster child.
  • Question 3: Let’s agree that stability is needed most. So what type of parenting between authoritative and authoritarian works better?
    • Answer 3: Let’s see what academic research has to say to this question.

A fascinating meta-analysis published in 2021 attempts an answer to the authoritative and authoritarian style for foster parents.

The article authors are Sabrina Chodura, Arnold Lohaus, Tabea Symanzik, Nina Heinrichs & Kerstin Konrad and the full text of the article is available here.

They summarised findings from 43 primary studies to identify what foster parent behavior was helpful in foster child development.

Given the surprising nature of their findings, we quote a section from their Discussion section on Parenting Styles.The italics and text color is added.

 Surprisingly, the authoritarian parenting style was also associated with higher placement stability. One could argue that the longer that the children lived in their foster family, this parenting style in foster parents might have been expressed more due to their behavior. Therefore, foster parents may think a more authoritarian style is necessary. On the other hand, authoritarian foster parents may question the continuation of fostering less than parents who exhibit other parenting styles. Furthermore, permissive parenting was—unexpectedly—associated with less externalizing and total problem behavior. An explanation may be that permissive parents do not limit externalizing and total problem behaviors as much as parents with different parenting styles. Therefore, they may report those child behaviors less. By contrast, it also may be possible that the CFC truly do show less problematic behavior when experiencing those parenting styles.

source : page 342,Sabrina Chodura, Arnold Lohaus, Tabea Symanzik, Nina Heinrichs & Kerstin Konrad (2021)

Like all careful researchers the authors do identify this as an under-researched area that needs more study. We concur with the author/s italicized observations. Because it is popularly believed that authoritative parenting is somehow better than authoritarian parenting.

Who is to decide? our dear readers might wonder. Well that is where the developed expertise of foster parenting comes in. Do consult with your social worker and other professionals familiar with your particular situation.

About StartFosterCare.org

Kinship care or Foster care : Which is better?

Kinship Care or Foster Care – StartFosterCare.org

Kinship care refers to a relative (including grandparents) who takes care of the child with the inability of the parents to do so. Kinship Foster Carers can be paid or unpaid. This varies by the State Government/County depending on policy,funds available, and preference and financial situation of the kin. Foster care is when a non-related,unknown family takes charge of the child and receives a stipend to cover costs. And then there are hidden foster carers, where the parents are theoretically incharge but the hidden foster carers are in practice responsible for the child.

In each of the above scenarios, the carers are kind and caring people and we salute them.

A lot of research has been done by the Social Welfare academic community as to whether kinship care or foster care has better outcomes for the child. As far as we could tell from the academic research, it depends a lot on the cultural and social context of the child.

In multi-ethnic America many communities are close knit and when parents fail relatives and friends are happy to take charge. The child achieves permanency or stability and avoids being shunted from one foster home to another or foster care drift.

Marc Winoker of Colorado State University alongwith Amy Holton and Keri E Batchelder has a nice meta- analysis from 2014 of prior research on the kinship question. We quote and highlight some parts of their results and conclusions:

One‐hundred‐and‐two quasi‐experimental studies, with 666,615 children are included in this review. The ‘Risk of bias’ analysis indicates that the evidence base contains studies with unclear risk for selection bias, performance bias, detection bias, reporting bias, and attrition bias, with the highest risk associated with selection bias and the lowest associated with reporting bias. The outcome data suggest that children in kinship foster care experience fewer behavioural problems (standardised mean difference effect size ‐0.33, 95% confidence interval (CI) ‐0.49 to ‐0.17), fewer mental health disorders (odds ratio (OR) 0.51, 95% CI 0.42 to 0.62), better well‐being (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.64), and less placement disruption (OR 0.52, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.69) than do children in non‐kinship foster care. For permanency, there was no difference on reunification rates, although children in non‐kinship foster care were more likely to be adopted (OR 2.52, 95% CI 1.42 to 4.49), while children in kinship foster care were more likely to be in guardianship (OR 0.26, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.40). Lastly, children in non‐kinship foster care were more likely to utilise mental health services (OR 1.79, 95% CI 1.35 to 2.37).

winoker,holton,Batchelder (2014)

If you think about it, many cultures have a strong community feeling. Quite simply a child feels “at home” if a member of the specific community steps up.

From the above, its intriguing why foster care has more adoption while kinship care seems to have more guardianship.

Becci A. Aikin of Kansas University in her Ph.D. theses (2010, pages 117-18) makes the point that current policy (as of 2010) thinks of permanency as a hierarchical process viz. reunification, adoption and guardianship. Adoption takes longer and happens more with unrelated foster parents while African Americans are more culturally accepting of guardianship. If quick permanency is the goal, maybe guardianship should be promoted.

The goal of permanency can be seen as providing a stable home and human connection. And this is probably the central question that all types of prospective foster parents need to ask themselves.

The goal for everyone is to do what is best for the child. The judgement call of kinship care vs. foster care is for the social worker on the ground.

In management this is decentralized decision making. Sure, there are laws,rules and guidelines at the Federal,State and County level but because we are dealing with a human situation – its best to let the social worker decide.

We welcome scholars/bloggers/social media folks to contribute to our blog.

About Start Foster Care.

Predictors of success: Therapeutic Foster Parenting

Happy foster parents watching foster daughter winning cup -StartFosterCare.org

Therapeutic or Treatment Foster Care deals with the challenge of kids who have support needs that are more than that of traditional foster kids. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway the therapeutic foster child needs a structured home environment that adds to a feeling of predictability and comfort in daily life.

We were delighted to note that one of the most cited scholarly papers on the question of outcomes is:

Redding, Richard E., Carrie Fried, and Preston A. Britner. “Predictors of placement outcomes in treatment foster care: Implications for foster parent selection and service delivery.” Journal of child and family studies 9.4 (2000): 425-447.

It turns out that Preston Britner is a University of Connecticut Professor. It just so happens that StartFosterCare.org started it’s pilot program in Connecticut!

The paper itself is highly readable (download the full paper here) and explains things clearly. While published in 2000, we think many of these findings apply today for foster care outcomes.

We quote the section (pages 437-438) on Foster Parent Recruitment and highlight an observation made back in 2000:

“The recruitment of motivated and skilled foster parents is essential. Careful recruitment of qualified foster parents, followed by the training and support provided to foster parents, contributes to successful placement outcomes. Unfortunately, recruitment may be the biggest barrier to a successful TFC program; many researchers and practitioners (e.g., McIntyre & Keesler, 1986) argue that the demand for additional TFC placements far surpasses the current supply. The problem may not lie in the scarcity of willing and capable families, but rather, in the failure to devote sufficient energy to recruitment activities, to target the appropriate population, and/or to provide sufficient pay to attract parents interested in the professional aspects of treatment parenting (Chamberlin et al., 1992; Dawson, 1989).”

It’s only in the last few years that digital marketing and social media has exploded. Similarly, despite the many challenges of COVID-19, being forced to work,shop and play from home has made everyone technology savvy.

There is opportunity now to improve the parent recruitment process for both traditional and therapeutic foster children.

About StartFosterCare.org

Become a Foster Parent is a calling

Here is a great news story from Renae Skinner KOAA NBC Southern Colorado. To even enquire about foster parenting needs a lot of courage, a good heart and it’s a calling. You may time to decide as this story suggests:

We at StartFosterCare.org aim to connect prospective foster parents with foster care professionals. We use technology so that the initial process is easy. Prospective parents can get all initial questions answered.

About StartFosterCare

Why StartFosterCare.Org? Our Story..

StartFosterCare.org launch coincides with National Foster Care Month May 2021

We started with some agencies to support their recruiting efforts digitally. Face-to-Face methods continued like open houses at the organization, a table at Community events. Advertising spending continued on offline methods but it was clear that digital marketing was effective both by cost and results.

And then there was the COVID pandemic since March 2020 causing enormous pain and suffering….

Organizations that relied solely on offline recruiting found a steep decline in the opportunity to talk with interested foster parents. The reason was that every physical location was now out of bounds.

There was no dearth of foster parent enquiries for our foster care clients because they were all generated digitally. During the pandemic nobody could leave home and became much more tech savvy.

On the organizational side, foster care training started being offered virtually to accepted parents. Everyone had become comfortable with digital…

There was one thing that perplexed us..

Before the pandemic offline open houses were sparsely attended. If ten people signed up for the open house – maybe 2 or 3 highly committed folks showed up,

During the pandemic, for digital Zoom open houses, despite all digital marketing efforts we found similar numbers. That is a maximum of 30% people actually attending after signing up.

It meant that 70-80% interested foster parents could not make it to the meeting given the numerous challenges everyone was facing.

The idea of StartFosterCare.org was born…

VisitDays a leader in the technology of virtual (and real) community engagement offered to provide their platform at no cost for a year to us. Thank you VisitDays!

We were convinced that if every foster care organization could have their content on StartFosterCare. Org then we could do a digital outreach for parents in the area.

We saw three advantages in launching Start Foster Care:

  1. Interested parents can actually attend open houses: Since the website is on all the time the interested foster care parents can browse nearby organizations that can take them through the foster care process. Taking the step to just enquire about foster parenting is a brave step and some parents tell us that they took a year or more to decide to sign up.
  2. Foster Care Professionals can virtually explain their support and services : With the pandemic foster care professionals are particularly challenged. Examples of these challenges include kids not able to take the bus due to social distancing and both parents need to go to work. In these difficult times what if they could make their initial open house presentations available online? What if prospective parents could chat online right from the profile? What if every interested parent could be followed up? Would this free up more time to serve the kids?
  3. A more organized community of foster carers in a state: Foster caring is an urgent social need and both the foster parent and foster care professionals are doing noble work. StartFosterCare provides a platform and data to create a supportive community of foster carers from Government, Agencies and Foster Parents.

We are delighted to launch StartFosterCare.org to coincide with the National Foster Care Month May 2021.

About StartFosterCare.

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