The first paper describes the research methodology that was developed for a statewide study examining resilience in foster families. The research team collaborated with the public child welfare system and two non-profit organizations that assisted with study recruitment. A sequential explanatory design was used to identify a purposive sample of 20 relative and non-relative licensed foster families from across the state. Narrative interviewing was used to facilitate stories of resilience. The template method of thematic analysis was conducted to identify ten strengths that families discussed in great depth as important to their capacity to care for vulnerable children. Strategies to increase trustworthiness will be discussed including the use of an online discussion board to provide a member check and the use of peer debriefing that involved having a foster parent as a consultant on the project.
The second paper examines the process of family resilience for foster families. This paper reports the challenges experienced by foster parents and will define the ten family strengths that facilitated the capacity for families to cope effectively with those challenges. Participants, drawing upon their experiences, offer suggestions to other foster parents regarding effective ways to cope with the challenges of fostering.
The third paper explores the ecological impact of social support. Foster families described their ability to navigate challenges through individual, community, and systemic support. Findings highlight the need for an ecological approach to supporting foster families that includes positive micro interactions with caseworkers, providing community education such that neighbors, schools, and faith organizations can better understand how to join foster families in this important but challenging mission, and enhancing resources at a systemic level.
The fourth paper describes how foster parents utilize empathy to manage stress, as well as to gain insight into situations impacting their families. Empathy was exemplified in this study through examples of boundary setting, perspective taking, and to advocate for the needs of the children in their care. Understanding how to cultivate empathy in foster families, in foster children, and in the professionals with whom they interact will be discussed as a critical strategy for enhancing family resilience.
Collectively, these papers present meaningful and measureable progress towards developing a research agenda for foster family resilience. Implications and future research to promote resilience in families and address such grand challenges of safe families and positive youth development will be discussed.