Abstract: Single Foster Parenting: Reflecting on Dichotomies and Needs (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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228P Single Foster Parenting: Reflecting on Dichotomies and Needs

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Morgan Cooley, PhD, Asst Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Heather Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raon, FL
Joy McClellan, DSW, MSW Program Director, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
Brittany Mihalec-Adkins, PhD Student, Indiana University - Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN
Background: Research on single mothers/families is often characterized by racial or social disparity when compared to married parents (Glass et al., 2016; Goodrum et al., 2012). However, there is growing science supporting the importance and strength of single parents and single parent families (see Taylor & Conger, 2017). Because married parents are disproportionately represented in foster care research, this study focused specifically on single foster parents’ perceptions of navigating their experience and their needs as a single foster parent. Research questions: (a) assessed how foster parents navigate and collaborate with the foster care system to care for their child and (b) asked participants to reflect on what resources, supports, or even research are needed to help other single foster parents fulfill their important role.

Methods: This cross-sectional study included 38 licensed foster parents who were not married/cohabiting with a partner. Participants were recruited from two Facebook groups. Participants emailed the primary investigator and received a link to the survey. The sample included 38 females and 1 male; identified as primarily white (n = 35); 36 identified as the sole financial provider for the household; 20 reported an income of $50,000 or less with the rest reporting an income above $50,001; and 30 participants reported having a college education. Participants were asked to provide a detailed description of their experiences fostering and how their life had changed since becoming a foster parent. Thematic analysis, using a grounded theory procedure (open, axial, selective coding), and inductive approach were used to analyze data. There were two independent coders.

Results: Preliminary analyses revealed that navigating the foster care system typically required participants to face dichotomies in fulfilling the foster parent role. For example, foster parents recognized the need and importance of collaborating with the foster care system, while also reporting the need to be reliant on creating or maintaining personal skills, a social network, and obtaining concrete support. Foster parents also discussed the importance of providing structure and finding stability for their foster child or family, yet they described the challenge of flexible parenting in response to working with the uncertainty, unpredictability, and sometimes chaos inherent in fostering. When asked to reflect on the needed resources, supports, or research on single foster parents, the majority discussed specific and formal concrete needs (e.g., transportation, better child care options, respite, flexible or after-work appointments) or informal emotional/social support needs (e.g., relevant support groups for singles, training or parenting tips related to being a single parent).

Conclusions/Implications: Participants appeared aware and deeply committed to the role and complexities of being a single foster parent; however, most discussed needs for formal and informal support. Compared to prior literature, single parents in this study appeared to have similar types of need and experiences as married foster parents, yet they focused more on the need for concrete supports than on getting emotional/social support needs met. Future research should quantitatively examine the well-being of single foster parents, and agencies should consider specific training and enhanced support to single foster parents.