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The birth parent experience: a qualitative study of foster care

17 April 2001


The number of foster care cases is increasing annually and child welfare agencies are having difficulty meeting the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare system (Child Welfare Partnership, 1998; U. S. General Accounting Office, 1995). In order to address this "crisis" in foster care, child welfare agencies are attempting to provide more intervention services for birth parents once children are removed in order to increase the likelihood that foster children are reunified successfully with their birth parents (State Offices for Services to Children and Families, Oregon Department of Human Resources, 1998). Understanding the perspective of birth parents is essential to knowing how to help them be successful in regaining custody of their children. The goal
of this study was to access the phenomenological perspective of birth parents who have children in foster care using a qualitative design. Ten birth parents participated in semistructured interviews which focused on how parents experienced their interactions with the child welfare system and how they were affected by the separation from their children. A core theme of powerlessness emerged which pertained to interactions with the child welfare system and loss of parental power. Poverty and power differentials as a result of class issues were inherent aspects of parents' experiences. A second core theme of loss was prevalent especially regarding the parental identity and relationships with children. Results suggest an increased focus on empowering birth parents and providing more personal support during the period of foster placement. Implications for public policy and services for families involved with the child welfare system are discussed.


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