Protecting Australia's Children: Research and Evaluation Register, 1995-2010

Experiences of former foster carers

Project summary

  • Out of home care (including leaving care)
Commencement year2007
Publication/completion year 2007
Researcher(s)Morag McArthur, Australian Catholic University
Lorraine Thomson, Australian Catholic University
Purpose of the project The research also aimed to: Compare the expectations of foster caring held by former foster carers with their experiences of being foster carers; Identify the factors which foster carers consider led to their discontinuing foster care; and Identify what would need to change for them to return to the foster caring role.

Research focus

Research/evaluation Research only
Part of a degree program No
Research questionWhat are the factors leading to foster carers' in the ACT discontinuing their foster caring roles?
Addresses child abuse Yes
Child abuse topic(s)
  • Other (child abuse (generic)/type not identified)
Major findingsThe findings of the research were; The context of complexity in child protection and foster care: Complex relationships exist between the foster carer, the agency selecting and training the foster carer, the statutory child protection agency. The complexity and interaction of factors and the emotional impact of fostering: Many carers expressed strong emotional feelings about their caring experience, even thought it may have been some time in the past. Some of these feelings described earlier include the sense of being used, abused and/or burnt out. Role ambiguity: This research adds to the existing literature about the ambiguous nature of the fostering role. This ambiguity is related to many of the reasons given for leaving fostering, such as not having a say in decisions about the children, conflicts with the foster care agency and/or statutory authority and minimal monetary compensation for the work undertaken. Wanting to make a difference in a child's life: All the carers interviewed and those in the questionnaire were able to identify positive aspects of fostering and these were usually related to seeing progress in a child while in their care. Others interviewed who chose to relinquish care of children under difficult circumstances were devastated by a sense that they could not help that child.
Policy implicationsPossible implications include; Promoting the parenting partnership- the collaborative care team: Having clarity about the experiences of former foster carers roles and responsibilities for each person in the partnership as promoting better working relationships in foster care.

Processes around finishing fostering: This research indicates that clear procedures about finishing as a foster carer which are fully communicated to the carers are vital. It is important that procedures are reinforced and supported at the time of leaving the foster care role, and that they include exit discussions with the foster care agencies and/or the OCYFS.

Recompense for fostering: Although some former foster carers expressed concern about being paid (they wanted fostering to be purely voluntary), a few former carers and several stakeholders considered improvements are required in this area, particularly in relation to reimbursement for contingency items.
Addresses issues relating specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peopleNo


Data samples
  • Foster carers
  • Kinship carers


States/Territories studied Not specified


Journal articlesThomson, L. and McArthur, M. (2009) Who's in our family? An application of the theory of family boundary ambiguity to the experiences of former foster carers. Adoption and Fostering a vol. 33 no. 1 (Spring)
Thomson, L., & McArthur, M. Foster carers leaving foster care, Communities, Children and Families Australia, in press May 2010
Conference papersThe experiences of foster caring and ceasing to be a foster carer - National Foster Carers Conference, Melbourne 2007
Why do foster carers stop caring? College for Child and Family Protection practitioners Conference, Melbourne 2008
ReportsEXPERIENCES OF FORMER FOSTER CARERS [no other publication details provided]

Contact Details

Name Institute of Child Protection Studies


Information obtained from Researcher
Added to Register 25 February 2011
Last updated 15 August 2011

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