Attachment phenomena in foster families: Exploring contributions from foster parents' early attachment experiences
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to discover the meanings of foster parents' early childhood attachment experiences with their parents and the influence of those meanings on foster parent's interactions with children in their care. Three research questions were the focus of this qualitative study: (a) How do perceptions of foster parents' own early childhood attachment experiences influence their relationships with the foster children in their home? (b) How do foster parents report experiencing qualities of attachment such as proximity seeking, secure base, and internal working model with the foster children in their care? (c) What might foster parents consider as enhancing feelings of attachment security and placement stability in the foster home?
The study was conducted using an informal interview format with foster parents who currently had foster children in their home. A purposive sample of fifteen foster parents completed interviews. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded for themes, using a phenomenological qualitative model for data analysis. Summaries of themes were provided to foster parents for comment and helped enhance methodological rigor for this study. A composite description of the experience was developed.
Data analysis and coding of the interview transcripts identified several themes related to attachment in foster families. Foster parents in this study discussed attachment experiences with substitute caregivers, or caregivers other than their parents. Foster parents shared both positive and negative attachment experiences with their own caregivers. They identified how those experiences influence their attachments with children in foster care. Foster parents also discussed their experiences of proximity seeking, secure base, and internal working model in their attachments to foster children in their home. Lastly, foster parents shared perceptions of what they thought might help improve attachments and placement stability for foster children.
Recommendations that resulted from this study were: (a) develop methods to encourage reflexivity with foster parents, (b) incorporate the importance of remaining emotionally level and predictable, belonging, and modeling genuineness or transparency into training or coaching with foster parents, (c) discuss the importance of commitment and persistence through the challenges of foster parenting, (d) improve information exchange systems to foster parents, and (e) develop tools for helping foster parents with loss.