URC

Attitudes Towards Foster Care

Sara Howard
The Master's College


Abstract

Research indicates that most individuals are led to believe many different false stereotypes in regard to the foster care system. The purpose of this study is to determine attitudes selected individuals embrace towards the foster care system. The study’s survey instrument, which was distributed to students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, as well as members of Impact Bible study in Saugus, CA, requested demographic information in addition to the five Likert-type scale questions. The data from the survey revealed that, according to those individuals surveyed, most people do not agree with the stereotypes but believe the truth in regards to members of the foster care system. Therefore, it has been determined, by selected individuals at The Master’s College and members of Impact Bible Study, that they have favorable attitudes towards the foster care system.

INTRODUCTION

As of January 2000, there were approximately 520,000 children residing in the United States that were in the foster care system (Foster care, 1999). Sadly enough, that number is growing yearly (Foster care, 1999). With so many children being taken away from their families and homes, for various reasons, there is a need for good, loving people to open up their homes and lives to them (Foster parenting, n.d.). When certain people do open up their homes to foster children, they receive different reactions to the situation (Craft, n.d.).

Current research suggests that most people do not fully understand “the daily challenges of the child welfare system” (Bissell, Geen, 2005, abstract). Everyone has a different reaction to children in the foster care system and the people who become their foster families. The attitude towards individuals integrating foster children into their homes is unknown. This research was described as descriptive because it looks “at some phenomenon of the present, describe what is observed, make appropriate analyses, and report the significance of the data” (Joseph & Joseph, 1986, p.10). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine attitudes selected individuals embrace toward the foster care system.

Historical Overview

Foster Care in the United States can be traced back to the Old Testament and the Talmud where children where cared for in foster homes (NFPA, n.d.). Within the United States, the English Poor Law regulated family foster care in the United States. “In 1562, these laws allowed the placement of poor children into indentured service until they came of age” (NFPA, n.d., para. 1). The nation’s first foster child, in 1636, at the age of seven was Benjamin Eaton (NFPA, n.d.).

Charles Loring Brace, in 1853, began the free foster home movement because he was concerned with “the large number of immigrant children sleeping in the streets of New York. He devised a plan to provide them homes by advertising in the South and West for families willing to provide free homes for these children, whether for charitable reasons or whatever help these children could be to them” (NFPA, n.d., para. 3). Through Brace’s actions the foster care movement, as it exists today, was developed.

“As a result of the New York Children's Aid Society's placements, sectarian social agencies and state governments became involved in foster home placements. Three states led the movement. Massachusetts, prior to 1865, began paying board to families who took care of children too young to be indentured. Pennsylvania passed the first licensing law in 1885 which made it a misdemeanor to care for two or more unrelated children without a license. South Dakota began providing subsidies to the Children's Home Society after it was organized in 1893 for its public child care work” (NFPA, n.d., para. 4).

It was not until the early 1900s that social agencies began to supervise foster parents. “Records were kept, children's individual needs were considered when placements were made, and the federal government began supporting state inspections of family foster homes. Services were provided to natural families to enable the child to return home and foster parents were now seen as part of a professional team working to find permanency for dependent children” (NFPA, n.d., para. 5).

Why Children Need Foster Care

The children that are currently in the foster care system are there for a variety of reasons including physical and sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, physical or mental illness of a parent, death of parents, emotional or behavioral problems (ACDHS, Why to children need foster care section, para. 1). “Children who need foster care come from all background. They are of every race, religion and cultural backgrounds. All have different likes and dislikes, talents and skills. Often these children have brothers and sisters who need foster care, too” (ACDHS, n.d., para. 1).

Stereotypes of Foster Children

Some individuals “have the wrong idea about children and young adults in the foster care system. Most people feel that the youth in foster care are troubled, hardened, aggressive, delinquent, irresponsible, and, in some aspects, dangerous” (Dent, 2001, para. 1). “There are more youth in foster care who are hardworking, dedicated, and determined, but because of stereotypes they go unnoticed. The public should know that youth in foster care are striving to become successful and productive. They should know that it takes the support of the public alongside the caseworkers to positively influence their lives” (para. 8).

Myths that need to be confronted include, “youth in foster care are incapable of assimilating into healthy family relationships, youth in foster care have little hope for a positive future…they will end up in jail or in prison, and youth in foster care are not loved by their biological parents…they do not have real parents” (UK, 2004, para. 6). Another stereotype of foster children is that most abused or neglected children end up in foster care. However, “in 2002, more than 3 million children were reported to child welfare agencies for abuse and neglect. About 900,000 of these children were confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect, but only one-fifth were actually placed in foster care, the last resort when they can no longer remain safely with their parents. In fact, most cases of abuse or neglect aren't serious enough for children to be taken from their families. Instead, child welfare agencies should provide supportive services to stabilize the family. Although child welfare agencies provided these preventive services to more than 1.7 million children in 2002, about 40% of child victims of abuse and neglect received no services at all” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 4-5).

Yet another false stereotype of foster children is that most of them are in foster care because of physical abuse. “Nearly 58% of children in foster care have been removed from their families for neglect (for example, their parents have left them unsupervised at home or failed to take care of their basic needs). About 19% of all children who are maltreated are physically abused, 10% are sexually abused, and 7% psychologically abused. The remaining 6% of maltreated children experience educational or medical neglect, cases in which a parent fails to ensure that a child goes to school or receives proper medical care” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 6).

The belief that most children stay in foster care for a long time is undocumented. “Even a week is an endless amount of time to a child, but most abused and neglected children do not spend their entire childhoods in foster care. Of the children who left foster care in 2002, 19% spent less than a month in foster care, and 51% spent less than a year in care. Unfortunately, however, more than one-fourth of children in foster care have been there for at least two years, and 17% of children have been in foster care for five years or more. Equally distressing, an estimated 10% of maltreated children who go home to their parents return to foster care within the year” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 10-11).

Most children in foster care do not move around a lot, in fact “84% of children who have been in foster care for a year or less have had two or fewer placements (and the first placement often is an emergency shelter). Child welfare agencies have far to go, however, to minimize placement disruptions” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 12).

Contrary to popular belief, not all children that are in foster care are able to receive federal support. “A child's eligibility for federal foster care funds is based on whether the child enters care from a low-income family rather than on the child's individual needs. More than 40% of children in foster care are not eligible for federal foster care support” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 13). In most cases siblings in foster care are placed together. “About 60% of children in foster care are placed together with some or all of their siblings” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 14).

Most children do not have bad experiences in foster care. “‘The most negative part of foster care is usually not where you're placed, it's how other people judge you,’ says Letitia Silva, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who spent time in foster care. ‘Too often, people treat children in foster care like they did something wrong’” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 21). “According to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, the first comprehensive study of children in the child welfare system, more than 85% of children in foster care reported they like the people they are living with, feel like part of their foster family, and believe their foster parents care about them” (para. 22).

Stereotypes of Foster Parents

Just as there many stereotypes of foster children, there are many of foster parents. One of the most common misconceptions about foster parents is that they participate in Foster Care for the money. The reality is that the money that foster parents receive is supposed to cover the basic needs of the foster child, i.e. food and clothes. However, “foster parents point out that foster care stipends rarely cover even children's basic expenses. Nationally, the average monthly foster care payment for a 9-year-old child is $420. The average middle-class family spends about $780 on a child of the same age, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 15). “For the past 50 years, foster parenting has been a volunteer service. People have become foster parents for various reasons, including the following: job satisfaction, commitment to a worthwhile goal, extra income, non-monetary recognition, new opportunities for learning, social contact, personal satisfaction, and as an attempt to resolve personal problems” (USDHHSW, 1994, para. 2).

The stereotype that foster children will destroy a good, healthy marriage and family is only true if the foster parents let it happen. There are ten surefire ways to destroy a perfectly healthy marriage: (a) neglect your marriage; (b) allow the child to manipulate and triangulate; (c) argue in front of the kids so they know that you’re stressed and wearing down; (d) ignore your own needs; (e) take all of the child’s behaviors personally then take the stress and frustration out on your spouse and family; (f) disagree with your spouse on discipline in front of the children further showing a division; (g) choose to be resentful of the situation instead of communicating your needs and feelings to your spouse in a healthy manner; (h) when things get really bad, don’t seek out help from professionals or clergy; (i) isolate yourself and refuse to talk about things; (j) convince yourself that respite isn’t necessary (Craft, n.d., para. 2-11).

The myth that foster parents rarely adopt the children in their care is also unfounded. In fact, “of the children adopted in 2002, 61% were adopted by their foster parents. Family members adopted another 24%” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 7). Another myth is that grandparents and other relatives cannot function as foster parents. The truth is that “child welfare agencies are relying on placements with caring relatives for abused and neglected children. Grandparents and other relatives currently provide care for nearly one-third of all children in foster care” (para. 9). Foster parents are allowed to contact a child’s birthparents, and often “play an important role in helping birthparents enhance their parenting skills and improve their relationships with their children” (para. 18).

It is true that is a national shortage of foster parents. “With the onset of the crack cocaine epidemic, the number of children in foster care doubled between 1986 and 1996, while the number of available foster care homes declined” (Bissell & Geen, 2006, para. 8). On a happier note, abuse by foster parents is rare. This stereotype has been developed by “well-publicized tragedies of children abused in foster care, that often distort public perceptions of the benefits that foster families provide to children who have experienced abuse and neglect before entering foster care. Of children who experienced abuse or neglect in 2002, 81% were abused by their parents, but less than 1% reported abuse by their foster families” (para. 17).

METHOD

The purpose of this study was to determine the types of attitudes people have towards the foster care system. The following research questions were generated:

  1. What types of attitudes do people have towards children in the foster care system?
  2. What types of attitudes do people have towards foster parents?

These research questions provided the focus of the study.

Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study measured the types of attitudes people have towards the foster care system. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the nine survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, as well as members of Impact Bible study in Saugus, CA. The survey was distributed on Thursday April 6, 2006. The survey was returned to the researcher upon completion.

Statistical Procedures

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was ordinal. An ordinal scale can be defined as “a scale of measurement in which the measurement categories form a rank order along a continuum” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 372). The One-dimensional Chi square was used because it is a type of analysis of variance designed for use with either nominal or ordinal data, as contrasted with regular analysis of variance tests of significance designed for use with interval or ratio data (Joseph & Joseph, p. 182-189). A .05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument was reported in percentages, tables, and figures.

RESULTS

The subjects sampled for this study were students at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, as well as members of Impact Bible study in Saugus, CA. The survey was distributed on Thursday April 6, 2006. Twenty-five copies of the survey instrument were distributed; twenty-five were returned, and twenty-five were used in this study. The data collected from the twenty-five subjects will be discussed in subsequent sections, commencing with the reporting of the demographic findings. The survey indicated that 48% were female and 52% were male. Table 1 summarizes the survey responses.

Table 1

Summary of Responses to Survey Questions

SURVEY QUESTION

SCALE NUMBER

TOTAL RESPONSES

COMPUTED

CHI-SQUARE VALUE

TABLED

CHI-SQUARE VALUE

1

2

3

4

5

No Response

     

Foster Children

                 

1

0

3

15

6

1

0

25

18.3600

7.815

2

1

6

12

6

0

0

25

9.7200

7.815

3

8

12

4

1

0

0

25

11.0000

7.815

4

10

9

4

2

0

0

25

7.1600

7.815

5

1

9

11

4

0

0

25

10.04000

7.815

Foster Parents

                 

1

12

7

7

1

1

0

25

17.2000

9.488

2

0

8

8

9

5

0

25

3.6400

7.815

3

6

12

12

2

0

0

25

8.4400

7.815

4

3

9

9

2

0

0

25

9.4000

7.815

Research Question One

What types of attitudes do people have towards children in the foster care system? Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 under “foster children” of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

Because the computed Chi-Square value (18.3600) for question #1 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that individuals do not believe that all youth in foster care are troubled.

This finding aligns with Dent’s (2001) research, which states that youth in foster care are not troubled (p. 1-2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (9.7200) for question #2 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that individuals do not believe that all youth in foster care are aggressive.

This finding aligns with Dent’s (2001) research, which states that youth in foster care are not aggressive (p. 1-2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (11.0000) for question #3 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that youth in foster care are capable of assimilating into healthy family relationships.

This finding aligns with the University of Kentucky’s (2004) research, which states they were seeking to rid youth in foster care of the stereotype that they “are incapable of assimilating into healthy family relationships” (p. 2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (10.0400) for question #4 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that youth in foster care have a hope for a positive future, and will probably not end up in jail or prison.

This finding aligns with the University of Kentucky’s (2004) research, which states they were seeking to rid youth in foster care of the stereotype that they “have little hope for a positive future…they will end up in jail or in prison” (p. 2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (10.0400) for question #5 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that individuals do not believe that all youth in foster care are not loved by their biological parents.

This finding aligns with the University of Kentucky’s (2004) research, which states they were seeking to rid youth in foster care of the stereotype that they “are not loved by their biological parents” (p. 2).

Research Question Two

What types of attitudes do people have towards foster parents? Questions 1, 2, 3, and 4 under “foster parent” of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

Bcause the computed Chi-Square value (17.2000) for question #1 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (9.488) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that individuals do not become foster parents solely for the financial benefits.

This finding aligns with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Watson (1994) research, which states that “in principle, agencies generally reimburse foster parents only for the direct costs of caring for the child. A stipulated monthly amount is intended to cover most of the costs of the child's basic needs. Certain itemized expenses may also be reimbursable. Frequently, the rate of reimbursement fails to cover the foster parents' out-of-pocket expenses, so that being a foster parent usually involves considerable financial drain. ” (p. 2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (3.6400) for question #2 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that there is a national shortage of foster parents.

This finding aligns with Bissell’s & Geen’s (2006) research, which states that “ with the onset of the crack cocaine epidemic, the number of children in foster care doubled between 1986 and 1996, while the number of available foster care homes declined ” (p. 2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (9.7200) for question #3 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that individuals do not believe that foster care contributes to the break-up of the families involved.

This finding aligns with Craft’s research, which states that “foster care is a lot of work and stress, but it's also very rewarding. The emotional roller coaster of fostering can either build your relationships or destroy them” (n.d., p. 1-2).

Because the computed Chi-Square value (9.4000) for question #4 is greater than the tabled Chi-Square value (7.815) at the 0.05 level of significance, it can be concluded that most foster children are not abused by their foster parents.

This finding does not completely align with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services research, which states that "most of the time, foster children are treated well, and foster parents do a good job."

Findings

The results of the One-Dimensional Chi-Square statistical test suggest that individuals do not believe that all youth in foster care troubled or aggressive; youth in foster care are capable of assimilating into healthy family relationships, have a hope for a positive future, and will most likely not be jailed or imprisoned; individuals do not believe that all youth in foster care are not loved by their biological parents; individuals do not become foster parents solely for the financial benefits; there is a national shortage of foster parents; individuals do not believe that foster care contributes to the break-up of the families involved; and most foster children are not abused by their foster parents.

DISCUSSION

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

  1. Most individuals have either a positive or neutral attitude towards children in the foster care system.
  2. Most individuals have a positive attitude towards foster parents.

It is fair to say that there are many stereotypes surrounding foster children, foster parents, and the foster care system in general. It is clear to see that there are many individuals who do not consider foster children to be any different from children from traditional families and who are thankful for all that Foster Parents do. However, it is also evident that there are those who are truly misinformed about the foster care system, or who really do not care about the children in the system or the parents caring for them.

Several of the numerous stereotypes and myths that are told about the foster care system are not true. It is true that many people embrace stereotypes and myths because they seem good, reliable, and reasonable. Thus, people need to personally research before forming conclusions.

It is believed that foster children are not all troubled, aggressive, unable to assimilate into healthy family relationships, unloved by their biological parents, nor will be jailed or imprisoned. As well, this research suggests that most individuals do not become foster parents solely for the financial benefits. The sad truth of the national shortage of foster parents was revealed. Finally, the claims that foster care contributes to the break-up of the families involved and most foster children are abused by their foster parents were not supported by the research findings.

Limitations of the Study

Several limitations to this study exist. The sample population consisted only of college students enrolled at The Master’s College during the 2005-2006 school year and individuals who were members of Impact Bible study during the month of April. Because all individuals surveyed were from the same religious background and fell within the 20-30 age groups, the variety of responses was probably biased. In addition, the knowledge of how much each individual has on the foster care system is not known. Although the findings for this study pertain mainly to the individuals from The Master’s College and Impact Bible study, a general trend may be observed and conclusions drawn.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding the attitudes certain individuals have towards the foster care system. Additional questions pertaining to whether or not these findings are representative of other groups and to the impact of the foster care system warrant further investigation; thus the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:

  1. This study should be replicated, using a different population to determine the attitudes certain individuals have towards the foster care system.
  2. A study should be conducted to determine the effects on both children within the foster care system and the biological children of the foster parents.
  3. The effects of multiple foster home placements on the foster child should be studied.
  4. A study should be conducted to determine the effects of placing a child in the foster care system, returning the child to his/her biological parent(s), and then reinstating the child in the system.
  5. The effects of having foster care children in homes with older foster parents, middle-aged foster parents, and younger foster parents should be studied.
  6. A study should be conducted to determine what happens to children when they reach eighteen and no longer qualify for foster care.

REFERENCES

Allegheny County Department of Human Services. (n.d.) Foster parenting. Retrieved March 20, 2006, from http://www.county.allegheny.pa.us/dhs/CYFnew/foster.html

Bissell, M., & Geen, R. (2006). Fostering progress. Children’s Voice. 14 (6), 26.

Brown, K. W., Cozby, P. C., Kee, D. W., & Worden, P. E. (1999). Research methods in human development. Mountain View: Mayfield.

Craft, C. (n.d.). Ten surefire ways to destroy a perfectly good marriage with foster care. Retrieved March 20, 2006, from http://adoption.about.com/od/marriage/a/toptenmarriage.htm

Dent, V. (2001). Don’t prejudge teens in care. Retrieved March 26, 2006, from http://www.connectforkids.org/node/317

Foster care 1999. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2006, from http://statistics.adoption.com/information/adoption-statistics-foster-care-1999.html

Foster parenting. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2006, from http://www.county.allegheny.pa.us/dhs/CYFnew/foster.html

Joseph, M. L., & Joseph, W. D. (1986). Research fundamentals in Home Economics. Redondo Beach: Plycon.

NFPA. (n.d.). History of foster care in the United States. Retrieved March 26, 2006, from http://www.nfpainc.org/aboutFP/FC_history.cfm?page=2

UK. (2004). Teen conference 2004 for foster youth. Retrieved February 28, 2006, from http://www.uky.edu/PR/News/Archives/2004/For_Journalists/releases.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Watson. (1994). Substitute care providers: helping abused and neglected children. Retrieved February 28, 2006, from http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/usermanuals/subscare/subscaree.cfm

 

APPENDIX A

Attitudes Towards Foster Care

Please read each question carefully and then record your opinion using a scale of 1 to 5. Thank you!

In regards to foster children:

1. Youth in foster care are troubled.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

2. Youth in foster care are aggressive.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

3. Youth in foster care are incapable of assimilating into healthy family relationships.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

4. Youth in foster care have little hope for a positive future…they will probably end up in jail or in prison.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

5. Youth in foster care are not loved by their biological parents.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

In regards to foster parents:

1. Individuals become foster parents solely for the financial benefits.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

2. There is a national shortage of foster parents.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

3. Foster care contributes to the break-up of the families involved.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

4. Most foster children end up being abused by their foster parents.
Strongly Disagree 1 2 3 4 5 Strongly Agree

Demographic Data:
Gender: Male Female
Have you ever been a foster child? Yes No
Have you ever been a foster parent? Yes No
Have you ever lived in a family with foster children? Yes No
Has any member of your family ever been involved in the foster care system? Yes No
Would you consider becoming a foster parent? Yes No


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