Methods: Eleven in-depth, semi-structured interviews were completed with current or former pre-adoptive foster parents across one Southeastern state. The sample is predominately female (64% female; 36% male), White (91% Caucasian; 9% African American), and married to an opposite-sex partner (91% married to an opposite sex partner; 9% married to a same sex partner). Participants were recruited via approved social media posts through online foster and adoptive parent groups. Interviews explored pre-adoptive motivations and expectations, experiences during the placement, consequences of the disruption, and the meanings attributed to the disruption. Data were recorded and transcribed. Handwritten notes, memos, and journals also served as data in analysis. Data were analyzed using Smith et al.’s (2009) Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) framework. Components of Vagle’s (2014) post-intentional methodology and philosophy and Van Manen’s (1990) six themes for a pedagogical approach to phenomenological research also informed data analysis.
Findings: Phenomenological analysis reveals the essential elements of pre-adoptive placement disruption include significant, compound loss, a broken social contract, isolating lived-through placement-related experiences, loss insensitivity, and betrayal, blame, and system attributions. Participants expressed nuanced race-related considerations and lasting effects of disruption. Comparing data from this study to a previously completed study in a Midwestern state reveals consistent findings, such as compound loss and disruption attribution, and novel findings, including those related to significant system challenges and race-related considerations.
Implications & Conclusion: This study reveals important findings regarding an under-studied phenomenon that affects the permanency of waiting children—pre-adoptive placement disruption. The phenomenon was explored by giving voice to pre-adoptive parents who care for children in foster care in need of adoption. Findings have implications for child welfare permanency and policy practice and pre-adoptive foster parent recruitment, retention, and support. Researchers must continue to question and investigate issues of permanency, collaborate with key stakeholders, and disseminate meaningful findings on behalf of children and families with permanency needs. In addition to investigating issues of disruption and risk, placement-stability protective factors must be explored. Pre-adoptive children and parents are worthy of directed attention and deliberate research and practice efforts. More fully-informed policy and practice will aid us in battling inequities, building solutions, and will bring us closer to social justice on behalf of vulnerable children and families.