The Challenge of Being a Foster Parent

Literature Review

February 29, 2004


This review discusses the commonly overlooked issue of how adults should deal with foster children with behavioral problems. It will explain how foster parents can help foster children properly adapt to their new homes, how foster parents can contribute to maladjustment, and what can be done by foster parents to correct pre-existing problems. This review will help others understand the process of fostering children and will uncover the thought processes of foster parents in dealing with problematic children.

This paper identifies the behavioral problems of foster children and how they develop as a function of the surrounding environment and the foster parents, the history of how adults deal with foster children, and past attempts to understand the issue, and reviews and studies that have been done about the issue.

Problem Statement

Ways in which foster parents understand and deal with foster children who have behavioral problems is a serious issue in the United States and one that tugs at the heartstrings. This issue remains serious due to the fact that approaching troubled foster children is often a difficult task that not many adults feel they can handle. Due to the difficult task of caring troubled foster children, many foster parents become less willing to care for such children (Cox, Orme, & Rhodes, 2003).

A study performed by Cox, Orme, and Rhodes, in which 142 foster family applicants were a part of, showed that, while most foster parents are willing to care for foster children, very few want to take on the task of caring for a foster child with behavioral problems. In fact, some of the only families to take care of these children were families that had access to many resources and were placed in the upper and upper-middle classes (Cox et al., 2003). Even those homes that do take on troubled foster children end up giving up on the child and sending him/her away to another home, making the problem even worse. In fact, almost all troubled foster children have seen more than one or two homes, and likewise with foster parents, seeing more than one or two foster children.

Sonya Leathers, in her study of foster children and their troubling behaviors as a function of foster parents and community institutions, found that most foster children who are not respected and cared for at home and who are not actively involved in the community with a group with adult leadership will develop problems as well. Troubled foster children are often excluded from activities in school, on the playground, and in extracurricular activities. These experiences lead to a detachment, not only from the foster parents, but also from the environment. This detachment causes the child to retreat at the prospect of interaction between himself and the foster parents as well as social events or taking part in an activity where a role with any amount of importance is assigned (Leathers, 2000). Society’s negative view of these disenchanted youth only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which these children have a great deal of difficulty overcoming.

Historical Perspective

Historically, foster parents are adults of households who have decided, not to adopt, but to take on the challenge of caring for a child until the child is ready for adoption. These adults are usually in charge of normal households and are willing to take in and care for orphaned children who have nowhere to go or cannot go back to their old families for legal or health issues. Foster parents will usually care for the child for any amount of time until another family or the foster family itself adopts the child. In 1999 alone, over 290,000 children were separated from their parents and placed into the care of foster parents (Leathers, 2003). Hundreds of thousands of adults make the decision to foster a child every year.

History has shown that children who are separated from their parents and placed into foster homes usually develop behavioral problems due to the sudden shift in environments and pressure to adjust to the new life. Most foster children in this situation feel violated, rejected, and handed off as if they were just some tangible object to be passed around. These children become maladjusted to their new environments and