A shortage of foster carers is a chronic issue for child protection departments and OoHC agencies. This shortage is exacerbated by high turnover rates of existing foster carers. A recent Australian study analysed the reasons why current foster carers may consider discontinuing as carers and suggests that agencies can do more to prevent the turnover.
Objectives of the study
The primary objective of the study was to identify factors that increased or decreased the satisfaction of foster carers. As part of the research process, foster carers were asked if they ‘had thoughts of discontinuing as carers in the previous four months’.
The study involved asking 205 foster carers to assess their level of satisfaction across 14 items or questions. Subsequent statistical analysis yielded four segments or types of carers in terms of levels of satisfaction. An affirmative response to the question of ‘have you had thoughts of discontinuing as a foster care in the last four months’ differentiated the most dissatisfied group from the three other mainly satisfied groups. This segment accounted for 19% of the overall foster carer population.
Surprisingly, carers who were considering discontinuing (i.e. the ‘discontinuers’) reported around average levels of satisfaction with their relationship with their foster child and in their confidence as a foster carer. However, compared to other, more satisfied carers, they were far less satisfied with factors related to the foster carer agency – namely the relationship with the agency, support from caseworkers and their ability to reach caseworkers when required.
A key insight from this analysis is the fact that the segment of carers with the highest rates of discontinuation ideation (i.e. carers thinking of discontinuing) is also characterised by the lowest levels of satisfaction with factors related to the foster care agencies.
This is significant because, unlike other causal factors, e.g. the characteristics of a child, these are factors that policy-makers or agencies have some control over and therefore can address.
Compared to other, more satisfied carers, those who were considering leaving reported:
- they had less training (or reported no training) prior to becoming foster carers in relation to the support available to foster carers and the importance of self-care.
- they received much less support in terms of training opportunities, support from caseworkers, number of case worker visits and overall agency support
- overall lower satisfaction with case workers (i.e. were more likely to describe the quality of case workers as average, poor or very poor compared to other, more satisfied, carers. They also reported infrequent contact from caseworkers.)
What carers wanted
The study also provided the opportunity for the carers involved to provide feedback on what might be required for them to stay. They reported that the following would be helpful:
- training on emotional aspects of being a foster carer
- training about likely public reactions to them as carers and their perceived relationship to the foster child (i.e. not being a birth mother)
- forewarning about any unrealistic expectations of the foster children
- improved quality of social workers/case managers; they reported
- high rates of turnover
- lack of skills and experience
- lack of appropriate personal characteristics
However, whilst agencies can follow-up on the training recommendations, the study makes no recommendations on the skills or characteristics of foster care case managers that would result in lower turnover. Perhaps this is the next step.
Randle, M., et al. (2017). “What makes foster carers think about quitting? Recommendations for improved retention of foster carers.” Child & Family Social Work 22(3): 1175-1186.