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Listening to foster children: unraveling their life stories through qualitative analysis

17 April 2001


The population of foster children is growing exponentially. There is significant
infonnation on the foster child's behavioral, mental health, and attachment
difficulties and there are numerous theoretical articles on the internal world of the
foster child. Despite this rich research base, there is little is known about the
experience of being a foster child. The purpose of this study is to provide
illumination and understanding about the meaning of being a foster child. A
phenomenological qualitative methodology was made of audiotaped interviews
with nine foster children between the ages of six and eleven, residing in
traditional non-kin foster homes. The approach focused on the subjective
meaning of foster care for the child with an analysis of shared patterns and
themes. Results revealed an overarching theme, "The foster child: Appreciating
foster care, experiencing shame and loss, while unfailingly yearning for
reunification with his/her birth family". The results of this study reveal that
school-aged children can tell about their experience of being a foster child. It
confirms that foster children are a unique population with shared emotional and
developmental experiences. The children in this study communicated a great
yearning to be with one's birth family, no matter what. Foster children
experience themselves and their families as "different", feeling shame and
isolation in this marginal identity. Being a foster child is a painful experience and
requires that much of the foster child's psychological energy be expended in coping with their experiences. These results are discussed in light of attachment and object relations theory.


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