Unravelling foster care and finding family support

Lovatt, Heather Muriel (2015) Unravelling foster care and finding family support. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The impetus for this study stemmed from a concern about a family-based care system in crisis with growing numbers of children with complex needs coming into the statutory care system and increasingly staying longer. Conversely, at the same time, there are limited care options and difficulties in recruiting and retaining carers. Given the term 'carer' is generally shorthand for 'women', this too spoke to my feminist principles and interest in women's issues, particularly when noting the dearth of feminist studies on this topic.

Family-based care comprises both foster and kinship care and is the most common statutory care arrangement for children who are assessed as being unable to live at home because of abuse or neglect or the risk of abuse and neglect. It is female carers who predominantly carry the primary caring role in family-based care as altruistic volunteers, raising issues relating to gender, power, culture and money making it a logical but overlooked choice for feminist analysis. It seemed appropriate that I took a poststructuralist feminist approach into this study to learn more about the family-based caring role from the female carers perspective. Twenty female family-based carers in central Queensland joined me on this research journey. As well as wanting to discover more about their role, I had two other aims, which were to learn more about what respect and support meant from the female carers' perspective given these two factors rate as priorities for carers, and to find out what improvements would make a difference for them and the children in their care.

I hoped to gain new and rich findings and utilised feminist ethnography with this in mind, moving beyond the researcher dictating the topic and questions and controlling all aspects of the research. Instead I engaged with the female carers through unstructured, in-depth interviews as well as being a participant in two carer support groups. This research strategy enabled carers to tell their story, in their way and in their time thus enabling new and rich knowledge about their experiences to emerge.

In terms of findings in this thesis, two complementary halves emerged during the study. The first half related to 'what is' in relation to family-based care in Queensland currently. In this part of the study narratives were deconstructed, revealing the dualisms, ambiguities and oppressions inherent in the current child protection system. However, striking new findings also emerged in relation to the innovative, but largely invisible strategies carers use to navigate through the barriers inherent in the child protection system, leading to a new finding of habitus and carers having a 'feel for the game'.

The second half explored the 'what should be' where carers talked about their practical vision for more flexible and compassionate options of care that effectively foster both children and families. The 'what should be', in the view of carers, was a bridging of the gap between child protection and family support, through flexible and responsive choices for children, parents, carers and child protection workers alike, thereby breaking down current binary oppositional thinking. Carers coined their approach as one of also fostering families, showing how such an approach could work in practice and bridge the child protection/family support gap through an aspirational exemplar.

This study has a focus on Queensland and provides a contemporary picture of child protection and family-based care in Queensland with particular reference to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry (QCPCI) of 2012-2013 and the subsequent report, 'Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection (2013). The recommendations from that report currently being implemented as part of Queensland's Stronger Families child protection reforms make the findings in this study particularly timely and relevant. However, the unique design, scope and original framework for analysis of this study, and the subsequent rich findings, have significance and implications for further research and practice much more broadly.

Item ID: 51292
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: child protection, family support, female carers, feminism, feminist ethnography, foster care, foster carers, foster parents, Queensland, review, social support, support, women and caring
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2017 01:49
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1607 Social Work > 160799 Social Work not elsewhere classified @ 35%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169901 Gender Specific Studies @ 30%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160805 Social Change @ 35%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
92 HEALTH > 9205 Specific Population Health (excl. Indigenous Health) > 920501 Child Health @ 50%
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