Over the past several decades, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Childrens Bureau (2017) reported an annual increase of children placed in . Factors such as insufficient family supports, reports of maltreatment, mental health distress in biological parents and children, and increased amounts of poverty and homelessness have all contributed to more children entering the Child Welfare System (CWS) (Clausen et al., 1998; Esaki, Ahn, & Gregory, 2012; Greeno et al., 2015; Randle, Ernst, Leisch, & Dolnicar, 2016; Child Information Gateway, 2017; Goemans, Geel, & Vedder, 2017).
MacGregor, Rodger, Cummings, and Leisch (2006) claimed many children had emotional, behavioral, and psychological challenges when placed in foster care. In other studies, when compared with the general population, a greater portion of foster youths presented with higher rates of developmental and cognitive delays, and insecure attachment behaviors(Clausen et al., 1998). MacGregor et al. (2006) found children with special needs complicated the roles of caregivers.
Juxtaposed to the upsurge of foster children entering CWS, there are fewer resource caregivers (RCGs), a term interchangeable with foster parents, available to care for these special needs youth (Esaki et al., 2012). RCGs attrition seems to be a concern when caring for foster children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Childrens Bureau, 2017). The goal of this study is to examine what motivates RCGs to continue and discontinue fostering. Additionally, this study will propose a conceptual framework for social workers who operate within the child welfare and child advocacy arenas for possibly improving retention rates of foster parents.
BACKGROUND AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Retention of RCGs has been an ongoing issue considering the current climate within the CWS (Esaki et al., 2012). Cooley, Thompson, and Wojciak (2017) mentioned one of the difficulties in CWS has been the decrease of satisfaction levels among caregivers. Much of the existing information only measured one aspect of caregiver satisfaction (Kirton, Beecham, & Ogilvie, 2007). However, other researchers have widened their scope of potential contributors to general satisfaction of caregivers. Whenan, Oland, and Lushington (2009) studied influences associated with RCGs welfare, satisfaction, and experiences to explain the causes of caregiver depletion rates. A univariate analysis implied positive RCGs-to-child relationship correlated with increased levels of satisfaction and greater self-efficacy. This was connected to a higher rate of satisfaction and consequentially intention to remain foster parents (Whenan et al., 2009).
Operating within CWS have been known as social agreement that is comprised of several participants (the foster youth, CWS, child advocates, biological parents) to include other factors (e.g., social workers, required training and background checks, and compensation) all of which play a role in RCGs satisfaction levels (Greeno et al., 2015; Cooley, Farineau, & Mullis, 2015). Combining the above-mentioned factors contributed to increased caregiver satisfaction levels while fostering youth (Greeno et al., 2015). Cooley et al. (2015) recognized satisfaction of RCGs is essential in the services provided for foster children, which may lead to higher retention among RCGs. However, Goemans et al. (2017) hypothesized a foster childs behavior might be a factor when accessing RCGs satisfaction and attrition rates.
Whenan et at. (2009) identified confidentiality and privacy laws as barriers for caregivers to access pertinent information regarding documented behavioral and emotional difficulties of their foster child. Several studies acknowledged problematic foster child behaviors as a variable in caregiver reduction rates (Whenan et al., 2009; Esaki et al., 2012; Cooley et al., 2015; Randle et al., 2016; Gieger et al., 2016; Goemans et al., 2017). Research findings have also revealed when compared with the general population; foster children reported higher indicators of psychiatric illnesses, insecure attachment behaviors, and growth and developmental delays (Clausen et al., 1998; Murray, Tarren-Sweeney, & France, 2010; Goemans et al., 2017). As a result, many caregivers discontinued fostering, which contributed to placement instability with foster youth (Gieger et al., 2016). Cross, Koh, Rolock, and Eblen-Manning (2013) explained placement disruption among foster children placed them at increased risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Gieger et al. (2016) asserted placement disruption as the core reason for uncooperative behavior in foster youth. Goemans et al. (2017) opposed earlier claims of placement instability leading to emotional and behavioral distress in younger foster children. Instead, these authors suggested the breach of attachment by biological parents was a factor in child behavioral and emotional instability while in foster care. Moreover, Murray et al. (2010) reported children in out-of-home placements exhibited behavioral and emotional problems that were beyond the level of preparation and training foster parents received, which may have contributed to increased stress levels among RCGs.
Murray et al. (2010) explained successful caregiver training required caregivers to assert self-assurance and the ability to employ the training they received to real life responsibilities of parenting children in care. The effectiveness of training for caregivers has been known to reduce stress in many RCGs, which may lead to positive parenting styles (Jones & Morrissett, 1999). Goemans et al. (2017) examined RCGs stress in a sample of 237 RCGs and foster youth. These researchers found foster children maladaptive behaviors negatively affected RCGs, yet caregiver stress did not influence the foster childrens expression of internal or external behavior (Goemans et al., 2017). Clearly, the more a child displayed disruptive behavior, the more RCGs reported higher stress levels. Vanschoonlandt, Vanderfaeillie, Holen, and Robberecht (2013) and investigated causes that led to RCGs stress for foster parents who had foster youth placed in their home for less than one year. Half of the participants in this study revealed they had negative adjustments to their parenting style because of added stress and strain due to behavioral and emotional challenges of their foster child (Vanschoonlandt et al., 2013). Although the sample size was small (39 participants), these findings implied a need for training to address caregiver strain, stress, and behavioral difficulties some foster children have. Other qualitative studies (focus groups and semi-structured interviews) found that although caregivers are trained to manage the behavioral and emotional challenges some foster children have, many RCGs felt unprepared and undertrained to assume their roles and responsibilities (Whenan et al., 2009; Goemans et al., 2017).
Several studies found CWS had service gaps with providing adequate pre-and-post training for RCGs (Cooley et al., 2015; Goemans et al., 2017). Additionally, MacGregor and et al. (2006) claimed RCGs reported a lack of preparation, support, and information about their foster children from child welfare agencies and the judicial system. Studies also showed RCGs self-efficacy, competence, and preparation are linked to reduced stress, and increased satisfaction (Vanschoonlandt et al., 2013; Esaki et al., 2012). Several scholars and federal policy previously acknowledged ongoing caregiver training by CWS as an essential component in retaining skilled caregivers (Esaki et al., 2012; Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, H.R. 3443).
Other studies recognized an inconsistency in mandatory training for foster parents (Herbert & Kuklin, 2018). In some states, CWS required RCGs to receive at least 30-hours of training before placing a foster youth in the homes of RCGs (Dorsey et al., 2008). However, potential RCGs in some regions were mandated by previous child welfare laws to complete only four-hours of foster parent training. In contrast, if an abused or neglected child had to be re-homed in an emergency, one-hour training could be completed and administered at the home of the new placement (Dorsey et al., 2008). Considering this review, much of the existing information focused on training for RCGs being mandatory and available (MacGregor et al., 2006; Dorsey et al., 2008; Esaki et al., 2012; Vanschoonlandt et al., 2013; Cooley et al., 2015; Goemans et al., 2017; Herbert & Kuklin, 2018). However, there are still gaps in understanding if training and preparation for RCGs were efficient to assist in minimizing stress and strain many RCGs experience.
Earlier studies used semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and surveys to examine the challenges caregivers had with CWS (Hudson & Levaseur, 2002; Brown, 2008). Common themes mentioned in these findings were inadequate support by assigned caseworkers and policies that were in place negatively affected RCGs and foster children (Hudson & Levaseur, 2002; MacGregor et al., 2006; Brown, 2007). Randle et al. (2016) identified formal support to be another factor for RCGs decision to either continue fostering or quit their role as foster parents.
Piel et al. (2015) claimed there were differences in the types of support RCGs might receive, such as tangible resources and emotional support. Walsh (2002) explained tangible resources were referred to as services child welfare and partnering agencies provided. Piel et al. (2015) mentioned the RCGs family provided emotional support if tangible resources were inaccessible. Overall, tangible and emotional resources were recognized as protective factors when housing children with disruptive behaviors (Walsh, 2002). Nevertheless, informal support, such as emotional support, has been linked to minimizing RCGs stress (Walsh, 2002; Esaki et al., 2012).
Much of the existing information about informal support for foster parents focused on building relationships with other caregivers within their community (Green & Gray, 2013; Octoman & McLean, 2014). Previously, Brown (2008) found RCGs felt connected to other caregivers who shared similar challenges about formal support systems and offered a compassionate understanding of their daily stressors. Lietz and Strength (2011) identified informal support as a source of promoting resiliency among RCGs.
Cooley et al. (2017) surveyed RCGs to determine which experiences led to their resiliency. These researchers found caregivers who reported less repeated maladaptive behaviors in their foster children and who were more connected to informal supports, tended to have higher levels of parental resiliency and increased confidence in their overall satisfaction scores (Cooley et al., 2017). This is in contrast to RCGs who shared higher incidences in child disruptive behaviors and who were not connected to an informal support system. RCGs who reported higher rates of disruptive behavior by their foster child had less confidence in their overall satisfaction scores and fewer indications of resiliency (Cooley et al., 2017). Walsh (2002), investigated resiliency-based practice with caregivers and argued incorporating familial and non-familial support networks were useful for RCGs, along with a sense of connectedness to their support systems.
In an earlier theoretical framework, Bronfenbrenner (1979) established that human behavior is interactive within subsystems and an individuals environment. The embedded subsystems within this framework are micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Piel et al. (2015) described RCGs often interact throughout the various levels of the ecological framework. Piel et al. (2015) were able to view the satisfaction levels of the RCGs from an ecological perspective; and documented the caregivers interaction within the above-mentioned environmental systems. Caregivers were evaluated the context of their community because of CWS interaction with RCGs and their families, and CWS involvement with RCGs is considered part of the RCGs micro-system (Piel et al., 2015).
Meanwhile, meso-systems are systems that are interconnected to other subsystems, such as (Bronfenbrenner, 1994; Piel et al., 2015). The exo-system level allowed the researchers to investigate the communications between RCGs and CWS (Piel et al., 2015). Piel et al. (2015) also reported RCGs operated within the macro-system and this system influenced how RCGs received support for their foster child. The influences of the subsystems of ecological theory possibly affected caregivers directly and indirectly because RCGs was stuck between these formal and informal supports systems (Bronfenbrenner, 1994; Piel et al., 2015).
Cooley et al. (2017) reported foster parents who can navigate throughout these subsystems of support were more resilient than those caregivers who lacked informal and formal supports, which may be a factor in determining reasons for caregiver discontinuation. Piel et al. (2015) cited future research with this group might be useful if it were conducted from an ecological perspective since RCGs were reported to operate among various levels of systems, families, and communities.
Although the research focused on factors that led to foster parents discontinuing care for maltreated youth, conclusions of these studies were based on qualitative methods to from regional areas, telephone interviews, and focus groups. Also, a majority of the data stemmed from the mainland United States excluding data from the far Pacific states, Hawaii and Alaska. It is feasible to determine whether findings from other states are similar and relevant to Hawaii. The experiences and observations of foster parents may be dissimilar as otherwise generalized by previous research findings because of the cultural differences in Hawaii, the types of resources available for foster families, and RCGs attrition rates in Hawaii.
A quantitative correlational research design will be employed to better to determine if a relationship exists between caregiver reduction rates and caregiver satisfaction in Hawaii, based on caregiver training and relationship with their assigned caseworkers. The results of this study could potentially be relevant for social work practitioners who operate within the child welfare arena and serve as a means to update policies regarding RCGs satisfaction, needs, and retention efforts.
To determine if a relationship exists between RCGs satisfaction, training, interaction with caseworkers, and RCGs attrition rates in Hawaii, three questions will be explored:
- Does the amount and type of training resource caregivers receive lead to higher rates of unsatisfied resource caregivers in Hawaii? It is hypothesized that if resource caregivers are trained to manage the risks of being a caregiver, they will be more likely to decide to continue fostering youth.
- Does increased support from foster care agencies influence resource caregiver retention rates? It is hypothesized that resource caregivers with support from child welfare services are motivated to continue foster care as opposed to those caregivers who do not have support from these variables.
- Does a relationship exist between foster parents satisfaction with assigned caseworkers and intentions of continuing or quitting their roles? It is hypothesized that there might be a relationship with caregivers ideations of quitting if they have ranked low on satisfaction scales.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in Kapolei, Hawaii will be used as the location for this study and data collection. The CASA program will be selected for this study because resource caregivers have constant interaction with the appointed CASA social workers (at least once a month).
The population for this study will consist of who are actively fostering children who receive services from the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in Kapolei, Hawaii.
After receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Hawaii Pacific University, the beginning phase of the study will begin. The target population will be 25 actively licensed, in Oahu. Child welfare policies and procedures may have changed for caregivers who are unlicensed and inactive.
A purposive sampling method will be employed for this quantitative study. Based on the purposive sampling method for the potential participants, the CASA social workers will determine which foster parents meet the criteria for the study.
A correlational research design will be used to allow for a larger sample of RCGs to be included, which allows for more generalized findings. The correlational research design is appropriate because this study seeks to understand influences that possibly led to a reduction in caregiver rates in Hawaii such as resource caregivers satisfaction levels, resource caregivers interactions with caseworkers, the types of support available, and the training resource caregivers receive.