Evaluation of the New York City Home Rebuilders Demonstration. 2.5.7 Role of Foster Families and Kin

09/14/1998

Foster parents and kin who assume responsibility for the children are an important permanency resource for children in New York City. Many foster parents enter the program with the intention of adoption or long-term placement. At the beginning of the demonstration, letters were sent to the foster parents (and to the biological parents) explaining that one of the main goals of the HomeRebuilders program was to reunite children with their biological parents, and this concept was expressed throughout the course of the study. However, when reunification was not possible and the goal was changed to adoption, in most cases, the foster family or the kin who had primary responsibility for the child became the adoptive parent. In some cases, the foster parent became the adoptive parent because of failed intervention with the families prior to HomeRebuilders. In these cases, it was not feasible to reverse the legal efforts already under way to free the child for adoption.

Many of the agencies indicated that some of the foster parents had difficulty accepting the goal of returning the child to his/her home. This concept was most difficult for foster parents who had already had the children in their care for a considerable period before the start of the study. For example, one administrator related a story of a father offering his child a piece of candy in the presence of the foster parent. The foster parent admonished the father in front of the child for giving the child candy. The administrator quickly stepped in and reminded the foster parent of her role in the situation. Another administrator stated that as a group, the foster parents in their Long Island locations were less willing to trust the biological parents than the foster parents in Brooklyn. This administrator believed that cultural values played a role in this mistrust. Other foster parents enjoyed a close working relationship with the birth parents and caseworkers and felt more valued working as part of a team. In fact, in some cases after the child returned to the birth parent, the foster family continued to support the family by babysitting and being a mentor. There are even cases where the birth parent asked the foster parent to serve as the child's godparent. At one agency in particular, there appeared to be a great difference between the experimental group and the comparison group in the relationship between the foster parents and birth parents. In the experimental group, interaction was actively promoted, with the opposite happening in the comparison group.

All of the agencies required foster parents in the experimental group to take a mandated 6 week training course. However, the agencies also offered additional training. Some agencies offered the foster parents and biological parents in the experimental group joint training sessions that focused primarily on birth parent issues. Other agencies invited both comparison and experimental groups to the sessions.

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