Abstract: Foster Parents' Experiences and Reflections on Working with Child Advocates within the Foster Care System (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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224P Foster Parents' Experiences and Reflections on Working with Child Advocates within the Foster Care System

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Morgan Cooley, PhD, Asst Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Laura Backstrom, PhD, Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Marianna Colvin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
Heather Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raon, FL
Background: Foster parents are approved by states as providers of care and shelter to children and are primary figures among the numerous professionals and persons involved when a child is placed in state custody. In many cases, a court-ordered volunteer and/or legal representative is also frequently assigned to children in the foster care system (e.g., Guardians ad Litem or Court Appointed Special Advocates; Donnelly, 2010; Florida Courts, 2018). While there are a number of articles individually examining the role of foster parents and child advocates or interactions among different child welfare stakeholders (Bai et al., 2009; Phillips, 2009), multiple gaps in understanding the interactions between foster families and child advocates. This poster utilizes qualitative research to explore foster parents’ experiences, interactions, and training suggestions in regard to working with volunteer and legal child advocates for children in foster care.

Methods: This cross-sectional, qualitative study utilized a convenience sample of 43 licensed, non-relative foster parents from across the United States. In order to be included in this study foster parents had to be over the age of 21 and have foster children currently placed in their home. The sample consisted of primarily white (n=40; 90%), female (n=42; 98%) foster parents between the ages of 24-51(M = 38.10; SD = 6.084). Authors took a conventional content analysis approach to examine the data following the seven classic steps in content analysis coding (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005; Kaid, 1989). Conventional content analysis requires researchers to approach the data from the stance of an observer with the intent of generating and defining codes throughout the analysis process (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). There were two independent coders.

Results: Preliminary analyses revealed that foster parents had mixed experiences with both legal and volunteer (e.g., CASA) child advocates: (a) only positive experiences; (b) only negative experiences; (c) both positive and negative experiences; (d) ambivalent experiences (i.e., no positive or negative association was made). Participants described a number of different levels of interaction, often noting that they feel like they got insufficient time with legal child advocates compared to volunteer child advocates. However, a number felt that legal advocates had more power or voice in court compared to volunteer advocates. Participants also described a desire for group training with child advocates so that everyone gets the same information and so foster parents feel that they are as informed as advocates. Final analyses will include themes, frequencies, and sample quotes.

Conclusions/Implications: Understanding how foster parents perceive their interactions with child advocates can provide information to enhance future foster parent and child advocate training and directly or indirectly influence the quality of care given to children involved in the child welfare system. Foster parents in particular may need ongoing training and support to understand the role and boundaries of child advocates, as a number of foster parents reported relying on advocates for assistance when advocates are really tasked supporting foster children.