The Foster Family Process

       Being a foster family consists of a continuous process influenced by several aspects. It involves challenges and demands. But also daily rewards. It is critical that more families be encouraged to become foster carers and also that experienced carers stay in the system to create a sustainable foster care programme. We found three types of foster families, classified according to their will to leave or remain in foster care—unconditional, hesitant, or retired. The support team are determinant for success in every stage. 

foster care;foster family;foster family remain;sustainability;childwelfare system

 1. The Survey

       InThis terms of the process of building the willingness to keep fostering children, theempirical research, based on a qualitative data analysis resulted in the identification of three different family groups that we designated as “unconditionalapproach, tries to answer the main research questions “How is the carers’ will to foster families”, “hesitant foster families”, and “retireda child maintained?” and “What can we learn from foster families”.

   experiences    Among the participants, the most experienced foster families were in the first group (which includes three families), “the unconditional FFs”, who stated thatto improve childcare and the child protection system?”. The aim of the study is to give voice to the foster carers in order to understand their fostering is “like an addiction” (FFONG3 carer, unemployed, 48 years old), to quote the words of one of this group’s carers. This sort of family does not imagine themselves without experience, namely the elements that contribute to their decision to remain in the foster care system and keep fostering children around, and they are availableor just leave.

  to    place two or three children at the same time. They wish to Only by having a deeper understanding of foster for as long ascarers’ experiences will it be possible, until they are unable to do so. These types of “unconditional carers” have extensive to tailor the support given and the social, clinical, and financial benefits. In Portugal, studies on foster experience, and it is likelycare are still limited that[1][2]. tThe female carers are not employed, so it seems thlack of investment in this child welfare measure is extremely significant. Looking at they have dedicated last decade [3], the numselves exclusively to the ber of children placed in foster task, as being equivalent to a job. Fostering reveals itself to be a positive and rewarding occupation, and the negative aspects involved do not matter. These care decreased by 70%. The figures have never been so low. In 2018, there were 200 children in foster families show a lot of energy and motivation, and they are encouraged and supported by their friends and relatives. They treat the foster children as though they are really members of the family. These stories reveal that friends and relatives can represent an important resource for the carers’ emotional well-being, especially at the end of a placement. These different aspects that drive the carers to renew thout of 7031 in out-of-home care; that’s only 2.8%. Excluding kinship care from Portuguese foster care regulations may be one of the explanations for the huge gap between the number of placements in Portugal and other countries. However, it still does not explain the reason why foster care remains residual as a public policy measure after 2008. Political disinvestment by public authorities, as pointed out by Portuguese researchers [4][5], is dunquesire to continue fostering are expressed in different fostertionable. In addition, the influence of religious charity networks that offer a very significant part of residential care experience narratives:

“Hecan be presented as another [fposter child] was like a fresh air. My friends said, ‘You are not the same person as a week ago’. […] fostering a child enriches us; it is a remarkable experiencetential reason for the resistance to reform the system, but more systematic research is needed to establish a consistent and complete explanation.

  While  I can be a    However, foster carer, I will. I do not like to be alone. […] I feel capable, I have energy to receive more constitutes an issue on the social agenda, specifically after the changes to the Portuguese children”. (FFONG1 carer protection law, Lei de Proteção de Crianças e Jovens em Perigo, hairdresser,(no. 51 years old)

“[our142/2015 of 8 rSelatives] love him [foster child] very muchptember) in 2015. The ‘grandma’ is my mother. When the phone rings, [the fosterlaw highlights foster care as the recommended measure for out-of-home care children say] -It is grandma!mainly up to 6 years old.

    (…)  She has breakfast daily The Portuguese legal framework is in line with us. [The foster children say] ‘Grandma, come. Grandma, come in!’”. (FFONG4 carer, domestic sthe national and international recommendations (e.g., Portuguese Republic Constitution—Constituição da República Portuguesa (1976); Convervant, 44 years old)

ion on the Rights of they Child; [relatives] help us to take care of him [foster child]. At Christmas there is an exchange of gifts; a child there is considered a family member, it is normal. It is a great party with friends and family”. (FFONG3 carer, unemployed, 48 yearsResolution no. 64/142 of the General Assembly of United Nations of 20 December 2010—Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children; Recommendation 2013/112/EU Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage, European Commission, 20 February 2013; old[1][4][6][7])

   on    The second group ofa child’s rights to grow up in families among the participants (which includes five families), called “hesitant foster families”, was experiencing their first foster placement (in this group, we can also find the carers who stopped fostering, the ex-FFs). They were facing several challenges that caused some relucy-based care; however, the reality of the child protection system remains different. At the end of 2019, a new regulation (Decreto-Lei no. 139/2019, 16 September) was published. This revision of the legal framework highlights the importance about staying in or quitting the foster care system. However, carers were conscious of the fact that they were playing an important role for theof recruiting, training, and supporting families who become carers. Families are recruited, trained, and supported by multidisciplinary teams which work for entities that offer a foster child placed with them. Encouragementare program in Portugal. To be developed and support from the people closestainable, the improvements to them are fragile. It is likely that the biological children and husband express no intention to keep foster care system must include the recruitment of new families who want to become fostering children. However, when asked to reflect on a hypothetical new foster placement, the hesitant families expressed interest. Nevertheless, participants expressed some preferences about possible future placements. Preferences included fostering younger children, justified carers and also must focus on efforts to keep the experienced carers and learn from their experience as a source to design recruitment and training processes and to evaluate and improve the foster care system.

  by  the perspective of building a relationship with the foster child more easily, as well as easier child behaviour management   Sustainability relates to the ability to sustain humanity, civilisations, and the intention to place siblings together as support for each other in ludic and emotional contexts.

“-Everybodyecosystems on earth. Achieving sustainability is was against us. Her brother, her sister-in-law, her niece stopped talking with her; Everybody said that it was an absurdity, -You are not fine!”. ( challenge and one of the most important objectives of a society and its people. Sustainability is a multidimexFFONGnsional carer)

“[Imagionce fostering another child] It depends; when we say goodbye topt encompassing economic, social, environmental, and other factors [8]. Ther [efore, foster child], how we are going to react [Imagine that you receive a call right now asking you to place a child] It would be possible!” (FFONG2 carer, schooare must be thought of and designed in line with the principle of sustainability, as it is a principle of social worker, 41 years old)


       TheAs in third group in this studyother countries, the retirednumber of available foster families (which includes two families), did not want to keep fosteris insufficient for the system’s needs in order to place all the children because of their own later stage of life. These types of carers included grandparents, those losing physical and psychologicthat would benefit from placement with a foster family. The number of foster families available is a determinant, as noted in the foster care manual capacitiesProcessos-Chave [10], aind those who wanted to dedicate themselves order to be a sustainable system.

      t Loo their own family, their children, and their grandchildren. They were not encouraged to receive more foster children. Feeling that they have already made their own social contribution to children’s development, they did not intend to continue fostering.

“No,king at European countries such as Ireland, England, Spain, or Sweden, and many other countries around the world like Australia, Canada, and the United States of America, foster care is likely to be the preferred placement for children, of course after the biological family if it is nothe age, I am 62 years old; She is getting tired; And I have also my grandchildren.” (FFSS2 carers, female, domestic servant, 62 years old and male, retired, 66 years old)

capable of caring for them at that time. The Portuguese scenario is significantly distinct. 

       AWittempting to construct an integrated interpretation of the dimensions of intervening in the carers’ process of maintaining the will to remainh respect to some facts and figures, in Northern Ireland, the empirical data from 2017/2018, revealed that 79% of children were in foster care [11]. In England, the fnumber is indings of the present study offer evidence for several factorscreasing; 73% of all children looked after were in foster placements in 2018 [12]. OIne of these elements is related with the detachment stage. According to the narratives of f Spain, there were 20,172 children growing up in foster families, the detachment process seems key (which includes children in kinship care) in 2015 for[13]. caArers to either stay in or quitound the world in Australia, foster care system. Despite being previously preparedconstitutes one of the main interventions of support available to a child [14], leaving the foster child represents a sad and distressing moment. Consequently, it can lead to sadness, suffering, insomnia, and crying:

“according to the Government, 85% of children living in out-of-home care are in foster care (including kinship care) in 2018. In Canada, 437,283 children are in fosqueeze in the heart!” (FFONG1 carer, hairdresser, 51 years old)

“livingter care in 2018, highlighting the increase in children fostered sin a hell…” (FFONG3 carer, unemployed, 48 years old)

ce 1992 when foster care included around 40,000 children [15].

       It is not, however, only the separation from the foster child that plays into the fost Portugal, children have always been taken care of by other family’s decision, but also his/her destiny that causes concern and anxiety. In someies in an informal agreement between two families or as an answer to orphans’ situations, [4]. caFourers in this research disagreed with the social worker’s assessment and held the view that the foster child should not return to his/her family. Several circumstances supported their opinions, such as housing conditions, among others. They felt that the child would not continue to benefit from the adequate care and the development progress experience during the periods define the foster care stages in the Portuguese system: origin, institutionalisation, expansion, and setback. The first stage lasted until the seventies of the twentieth century, and it revealed that foster family placement. The anxiety is bass have always existed on[4]. the tAccotal disruption ofrding to the foster family–acts and figures, foster child relationship:

“myare in Portugal remains in biggest fear is to lose touch [with the foster child] definitely” (FFONG4 carer, domestic servant, 44 years old)

 he setback process. The first law regulating foster care was published in 1979 (DL no. 288/79  of    Therefore, there is a sense of satisfaction and relief when the foster 13 August), but it defined it as a “family keeps in touch with the foster child after the end of the placement:

“Iplacement”. Later in 1992 (DL no. 190/92 of 3 September), am not concerned because he [foster child] left but he calls me on Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook,ew law revealed an effort to improve upon the previous one. aInd his mother too. He arrived in France yesterday because I know he went to France, and he goes to my home.” (FFONG1 carer, hairdresser, 51 years old)

the past, foster care was part of a social benefit instead of a child protection measure as is nowadays.

       The term global impact of the fostering experience influences the decision to keep fostering“foster family” in Portugal denotes a single person or a couple, specifically qualified for the task of placing a children. It goes from addressing the initial expectations through to the daily dynamics, the impact of fostering on biological children, and child behaviour management. Unfulfilled expectations and significant changes to daily routines lead to a diminishing motivation to foster. The or an adolescent and taking care of him or her, addressing his/her needs, and promoting the child’s well-being and education needed for global development (Decreto-Lei no. 139/2019 of 16 September). Since 2008, foster child’s behaviour is often the most challenging aspect, warranted by his/her previous life path. When the impact ofare kinship has not been allowed. If a caregiver is a relative of the foster child, it is not considered fostering causes damage to care; it is a biological children, carers tend to delay or refuse new placements.

“wfamily measure to support the child’s family. Since then, he arrived home, we had to do a lot…, he doesn’t sleep alone. (…) at the moment the reward isthe number of children placed in foster care has been decreasing significantly, as stated previously a[3].

    chocolate  from the Christmas calendar. He has more closed days than opened days; however, very good behaviour leads to opening a door.” (FFONG5 carer, family support worker, 42 years old)

“-H In terms of geographic presence, in the north of the country, we find more foster carers, and there are [son] is beginning to reject school, to not want to do things that he usually did. I think that it was due to their [me regions without any foster families and therefore without any fostered children] presence; (…) By now, no [keep fostering]. While our son is still young. Maybe, someday. When he changes. It depends on the foster child, she/he is older than him, if she/he does not need so much he. In the north is where one non-governmental organisation has offered a foster care programme for 12 years in accordance with international standards. Across the country, the social security publp,ic I am sure he [biological son] will accept it.” (exFFONG carer)

 institute has the responsibility of carrying      Althought fostering presents challenges, the experience also has rewarding outcomes in everyday life. The return comes from the stakeholders care; however, at the moment it is almost residual. Government decentralisation is the tendency.

      i Involved, e.g. Porto District, the foster child, her/his biological family, the support team, relatives, and friendsarer’s profile has been characterised by Delgado et al. It[4] is(p. a reward system fed by different perspectives. Being recognised and loved by the foster child, as well as the child’s developmental achievements, seem relevant for80). They are aged, with a poor/basic level of education; wives are likely to be domestic workers. In one third of these foster families, both carers. The opposite, however, when it occurs, makes the foster carers feel hurt. The are unemployed. Unemployment reveals their compliments from society at large, from across the social network, and from the support team allow carers to feel satisfaction and reinforce the disposition to continue toete availability to take care of a child but also their economic fragility and perhaps professional interest. In Portugal, foster.

“when hcare [foster child] told me ‘I ‘d rather you be my mother… because it makes us feel good’, it evidences that he is really good here, he feels good. (…) his smile is enough!” (FFONG5 carer, family support worker, 42 yearsprofessionalisation is not possible. Fostering is not conceived as a profession but instead it is considered as a voluntary and solidary activity old)


       Since  “I was sad [with the foster child], I am still. I don’t regret anything, but I am hurt. I never thought that she could tell me ‘I am tired of being here’… there is no reason. We just wanted her to be grown up.” (exFFCPCJ carer, teacher, 38 years old)

 1992, foster families have been protected by legal rights (DL no. 190/92 of 3 September). However, after a deep discussion involving a public hearing, carers saw their benefits extended (DL no. 139/2019 of 16 September). This means that they receive, after January 2020,  a      “Congratulations, I have known that you are fostering a child. It must be courage.” (FFONG2 carer, school worker, 41monthly allowance of around 522.91€ per child, and a bonus of 15% for children up to 6 years old)

“They [theor social workers] trust me a lot, and they must!” (FFSS2 carer, domestic servant, 62 years old)

for children with special needs. The law focuses on duties as well.

       An fother relevant driver of the renewal process that seems to be relevant is the carers’ role legitimacy, especially with respect to being involved in making decisions aboster family is required to give emotional security, affection, and love to a child, but the child’s life course, such as decisions on future integration at the end offamily must also be available to collaborate in the recovery of the child’s family the[16], foster placement. Words and actions of value must necessarily be complemented by professional support in order for the fosterexample, maintaining a cordial relationship and connection, giving a positive/neutral image of the birth family to feel competent, and to ensure economic and, and promoting child–parents contact. Martins mater[17] hiaghl benefits. Theights that carers should not pay for the foster child’s expenses. They already work hard by taking care of them without a salary.

“-theare involved in a complex situation, perhaps with rivalry and antagonism. However, the relationship built between the social actors moneay given by the Government… a foster family islead to different scenarios.

  poorly  paid! They [the   Reasons to foster children] are like our children, we need to take them to the doctor. He [fostera child in Porto District are based on affective and humanistic motivations, a love of child] has a lot of healthren and a desire to help problems[1]. IFinancial take him to the psychiatrist, and I pay the consult. At the firstmotivation is not significant as findings from a recent research study [2] plindicacement [it was different], when I needed to take the te. The authors also find the transmission of social values to biological children to the doctor, then I sent the receipt to the Social Security as a motivation to foster. Personal and thefamily reimbursed me. Nowadays, I pay all the expenses. Just folife paths can foster the medicines, I spend 85€ every month.” (FFSS2 carers, female, domestic servant, 62 years old and male, retired, 66 years old)

2. Analysis

 desire to take care of and protect a child who was maltreated in the past. So,  in    Overall, thePortugal, in Figure 1 lintegrates the dimensions that represent the carers’ process of maintaining the will to remain in with other countries, it seems that the motivation to become a foster care. It is understood that the impacts of previous foster placements, the reward system, and the management of the detachment processfamily stems from one or more of these three drivers: child-centred reasons, self-oriented reasons, and society-oriented reasons, with the focus likely being on the child-centred reason [18]. iInfluence the will for a foster Portugal, it seems unlikely to find “second family to keep fostering children. The impacts of fostering seemies” among families experiencing the empty nest syndrome, as found by Schofield et al. to[19], be centred on the management of the initial expectations, the daily changes, the impact on their own ause one of the family features in southern countries like Portugal is precisely that adult children, and finally the management still live in their parents’ home [5].

       Abofut the foster child’s being experience, Delgado et al. [4] havie four. With respect to the reward system related to nd that in Portugal carers appreciate the love given by the fostering, we underst child and that it is filled by (a) the recognition and being valued (from all the stakeholders, includincarers give this love back. Negative aspects are the financial costs and the fear of losing the foster child, his/her biological family, friends, and the support team), (b) the quality of support from public services (emotional and instrumental support level and legitimisation ochild. Only one of the participants referred to the child’s behaviour and social discrimination. Diogo [5] identifies the carers’ role), and (c) the legal framework (legal autonomy, financial and material rewards, andexperience as rewarding, as well as feeling valued by society, but also social status)with challenges.

       Finally, the managementin terms of the detachment is related to the quality of the previous preparation and support during the child transition process at the end of the placement. It can be painful for both the foster family and the foster child. A good relationshipwill to continue fostering children, retention success is not easily defined and may be different for different types of caring models with[20]. Neverthe biological family mayless, Sinclair et al. me[21] stan keteping in touch with the that foster child after his/her return home.

Figure 1. Factors affecting willingness to remain a foster family (own elaboration).

       Figure 2 arers must feel supported; thereforamese, the participating rinciples of the kind of fostering that carers into three different family groups: “unconditionalare asked to undertake must fit with foster families”, “hesitant foster families”, and “retired foster families”’ situations and preferences. Foster families with more experience feel that fostering is an addictive task; they cannot imagine themselves without children around, so they are available to place more than one child at the same time and want to be a foster family until somethingneed to be treated as part of the team and of the support system, and foster carers need a supportive response to critical events (such as placement breakdown and abuse allegations). Early intervention might help to prevents them from doing so. Their friends and relatives encourage a this sort of event.

Ind support them to continue fostering. Hesitant foster families (and those who have stopped fostering) are in their first placement, experiencing challenges that make their opinion very volatile. The term “retired” can be applied to the families who have chosen not to continue fostering due to their agemmary, to invest in new and experienced foster carers seems to be the secure path for the Portuguese government and social services in order to achieve a solid child protection system.

Figure 2. Family’s dispositions facing future foster placements (own elaboration).


  1. Delgado, P. Acolhimento Familiar—Conceitos, Práticas e (in) Definições; Profedições, Lda: Porto, Portugal, 2007.
  2. Diogo, E.; Branco, F. Being a Foster Family in Portugal—Motivations and Experiences. Societies 2017, 7, 37, doi:10.3390/soc7040037.
  3. Instituto da Segurança Social, I.P. CASA 2018—Caracterização Anual Da Situação de Acolhimento Das Crianças e Jovens; Instituto da Segurança Social, I.P.: Lisboa, Portugal, 2019.
  4. Delgado, P. Acolhimento Familiar de Crianças, Evidências Do Presente, Desafios Para o Futuro; Mais Leituras Editora: Porto, Portugal, 2013.
  5. Diogo, E. Ser Família de Acolhimento de Crianças; Universidade Católica Editora: Lisbon, Portugal, 2018.
  6. Carvalho, M.J. Sistema Nacional de Acolhimento de Crianças e Jovens, 1st ed.; Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian: Lisbon, Portugal, 2013.
  7. Schofield, G.; Beek, M. Providing a Secure Base : Parenting Children in Long-Term Foster Family Care. Attach. Hum. Dev. 2005, 7, 3–25, doi:10.1080/14616730500049019.
  8. Rosen, M.A. Issues, Concepts and Applications for Sustainability. J. Cult. 2018, 3, doi:10.12893/gjcpi.2018.3.40.
  9. International Federation of Social Work. Global Social Work Statement of Ethical Principles. Available online: (accessed on 17 August 2020).
  10. Instituto da Segurança Social I.P. Manual de Processos-Chave—Acolhimento Familiar; Instituto da Segurança Social, I.P.: Lisboa, Portugal, 2009.
  11. Department of Health. Children’s Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland; Department of Health: New York, NY, USA, 2017/18; 2018.
  12. Department for Education. Children Looked after in England (Including Adoption); Department for Education: London, UK, 2018.
  13. Ministerio De Sanidad e Servicios Sociales e Igualdad. Boletín de Datos Estadísticos de Medidas de Protección a La Infancia; Ministerio De Sanidad e Servicios Sociales e Igualdad: Madrid, Spain, 2017.
  14. Octoman, O.; McLean, S. Challenging Behaviour in Foster Care: What Supports Do Foster Carers Want? Adopt. Foster. 2014, 38, 149–158, doi:10.1177/0308575914532404.
  15. Doucet, M.; Marion, É.; Trocmé, N. Group Home and Residential Treatment Placements in Child Welfare: Analyzing the 2008 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. 2018. Available online: (accessed on 24 September 2020).
  16. Delgado, P. O Contacto No Acolhimento Familiar—O Que Pensam as Crianças, as Famílias e Os Profissionais; Mais Leituras Editora: Porto, Portugal, 2016.
  17. Martins, P. Proteção de Crianças e Jovens Em Itinerários de Risco, Representações Sociais, Modos e Espaços; Instituto de Estudos da Criança da Universidade do Minho: Braga, Portugal, 2004.
  18. Rhodes, K. Foster Parents’ Reasons for Fostering and Foster Family Utilization. J. Soc. Soc. Welf. 2006, 33, 105.
  19. Schofield, G.; Beek, M. Growing Up in Foster Care; British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering: London, UK, 2000.
  20. Thomson, L.; Watt, E.; McArthur, M. Literature Review: Foster Carer Attraction, Recruitment, Support and Retention; Institute of Child Protection Studies; Australian Catholic University: Canberra, Australia, 2016.
  21. Sinclair, I.; Gibbs, I.; Wilson, K. Foster Carers: Why They Stay and Why They Leave; Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London, UK, 2004.