Children in out-of-home-care often suffer from a host of emotional, behavioural, educational, social, and developmental issues. Compounding this is the problem of a shortage of foster carers and placement breakdown, meaning that these children are often required to frequently move placements. Furthermore, their complex and often extreme needs can be stressful and burdensome to carers. There are also other stressors involved in foster caring, such as allegations of abuse, working with fostering agencies or difficulties with the child’s biological family. This dissertation aimed to investigate the potential stressors of fostering and their impact on caregivers. It investigated the child behaviours and other circumstances that are troublesome to carers. The relationships between these factors and carer outcomes were also explored. The final objective was to determine whether a tailored parenting program for foster carers was an effective tool for reducing problematic child behaviours. Three studies were conducted to achieve these aims.
Study One: Qualitative Information. The first study was qualitative in nature and used focus groups and interviews to explore the experience of being a foster carer in Queensland (N = 63). Findings showed that child behaviour and the day-to-day care of children is only a small portion of the strain that foster carers face on a daily basis. In addition to managing difficult child behaviours, carers also reported financial concerns, negative impact on their own family, allegations of inappropriate care, problems working with biological families, and challenges working with foster care services. Because of these stressors, there is great need for carer training and support. However, participants reported feeling largely unsupported and a desire for immediate and specific assistance when problems arise. Further, negative feedback was given about the usefulness and availability of foster carer training.
Study Two: Quantitative Information. The second study used survey methodology to explore the experience of foster carers (N = 296) with regards to the impact of the children’s emotional and behavioural issues and other stressful events on carer outcomes. Descriptive information was gathered, summarising several aspects of the fostering experience in Queensland. Findings included that: the majority of carers surveyed had more than one foster child in their care (M = 2.41, maximum = 10), commenced fostering to help protect children from further harm, and identified difficult child behaviour, parenting-related stress, and working with child protection agencies as being problematic for them. Despite these stressors, the majority of participants had good psychological well-being, intended to continue fostering in the foreseeable future, and were overall quite satisfied with their role of being carers (with the exception of satisfaction with fostering support services).
This information was then extended by taking the descriptive information collected and using a path-analysis was used to determine predictors of foster carer outcomes, such as psychological distress, satisfaction with fostering and intention to continue fostering. Key findings of this model included that external stressors, parenting stress, lower perceptions of support, and less confidence in managing children’s behaviour all predicted less satisfaction with fostering and poorer psychological well-being. Only the stress of children’s behaviour was directly associated with a lowered intention to continue fostering. The extent to which foster carers reported past training to be useful and beneficial related to carers’ confidence in their ability to manage children’s behaviour, perceptions of support from others, and less parenting stress.
Study Three: Intervention. Study Three involved the development and preliminary trial of Taking Care Triple P, a positive parenting program tailored to suit foster carers. A consumer-informed approach to program modification was adopted, whereby changes and alterations were made based on the feedback and input of the foster carers in the first two studies. Taking Care Triple P was developed primarily to assess whether a parenting intervention could help alleviate a portion of the stress faced by the foster carers through helping them to better manage the behaviour of the children in their care. The program was developed for foster carers of children aged 2 to 12 years and uses active skills training to promote caregiver competence and confidence. Findings showed that although there was a small number of participants (N=16), there were significant differences between pre- and post-assessment scores on measures of child behaviour and parenting style. Qualitative feedback from participants also described the program as beneficial. This suggests that Taking Care Triple P is a promising parenting program that can assist in the behaviour management and well-being of children-in-care.