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Social Work and Social Policy Seminar Series

Growing up in a family that fostered

Allison Tatton

In England nearly three quarters of looked after children are cared for in foster families. In spite of this, relatively little is known about the experiences of foster carers’ children in families who foster. This study used narrative interviews to explore the experiences of twelve adults aged 18 to 54 who had been brought up in such families. Their families had fostered for much or all of their childhood and growing up in a fostering family had had a considerable impact on them. The findings revealed that, as children, they had been exposed to a range of adverse experiences, including exposure to risk or actual harm, loss of parental attention, diminution of contact with friends and relatives, and sequential losses when foster children left the family. Participants had felt that their experiences and feelings were not fully acknowledged or sometimes recognised by their parents or social workers. For some, their experiences as children continued to trouble them. For others, painful and traumatic memories continued to have an effect on their relationships inside and outside the family. Despite such adverse experiences, participants viewed some of the fostered children as siblings and continued to do so into adulthood. The analysis used the theory of family boundary ambiguity and ambiguous loss to gain a deeper understanding of participants’ experiences. The findings suggest that there is a need for much greater awareness of the issues that foster carers’ own children face. They have implications for decision-making about placing foster children, for training and for the preparation of foster carers and their children. They also suggest that a change in the ways in which placements are supported is needed to include a greater focus on the children of foster carers.

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