Language is a powerful tool that can ease the transition into a new home for foster children and may even enhance the possibility that the placement will succeed, new research shows.
When foster parents say, “This is our house; this is your room,” to a child, they’re relaying an important message: “You are part of this family—the whole family,” and that’s a strong statement, says Annette Semanchin Jones, assistant professor of social work at the University at Buffalo.
This “claiming language” and its consistent use helps children feel a sense of belonging and understand foster parents will advocate for them and help with adaptation to different schools and neighborhoods.
For the study, published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with 35 experienced foster parents to explore how they contributed to a “functional adaptation” that helped children transition successfully and sustain placements.
“This study really speaks to helping to make sure that foster parents are well prepared,” says Semanchin Jones. “Every jurisdiction has pre-service trainings, but our research shows the need for ongoing support once kids are in foster homes.”
There is a nearly 50 percent turnover rate of foster parents and nearly 90 percent of children in care experience at least one disruption, Semanchin Jones says. “When we think about kids who have already been removed from their homes of origin, placement disruption can be a re-traumatizing experience.”
Further, previous research has shown that children who experience frequent disruptions tend to have poor psychosocial outcomes. “Even kids who didn’t come into foster homes with behavior problems end up having both internalizing behaviors like suicidal ideations and externalizing aggressive behaviors such as physical aggression.”
This can set up a perpetuating cycle of instability for children as their continuing poor behaviors force each new set of parents to request the child be moved to a different placement. Foster parents also need to understand the multiple dimensions of care created by the existence of a foster family, a birth family, and the child.
“Foster parents should be respectful in honoring the birth family,” says Semanchin Jones. “That can be difficult because not every situation is going smoothly, but kids have multiple senses of loyalty and foster parents should not be talking down about the birth family.”
Source: University at Buffalo