Foster parents' understanding of the foster child's perspective: Does it matter and can it be changed?
Socio-emotional outcomes for children placed in care are more positive when foster parents have a secure state of mind regarding attachment and are able to think about the child’s unique psychological perspective (Dozier, Stovall, Albus & Bates, 2001; Schofield & Beek, 2005a). One aspect of parents’ thinking about the child has been conceptualised as mind-mindedness (Meins, 1998) and is measured by the proportion of mind-related comments made when a parent is asked to describe their child. The first study examines whether foster parent’s mind-mindedness and attachment perceptions, amongst other child and foster parent characteristics, are positively associated with the foster parent-child relationship and the child’s emotional and behavioural outcomes. The study found that foster parents with higher mind-mindedness had foster children with fewer behaviour problems and this relationship was enhanced by foster parents having positive attachment perceptions. Moreover, foster parent mind-mindedness was not related to the quality of the parent-child relationship, except when parents had positive attachment perceptions. Regarding the child’s placement characteristics, the number of previous placements the child had experienced predicted the child’s emotional and behaviour problems and the age at which the child was placed predicted the quality of the foster parent-child relationship. The best placement predictors of both outcome variables considered together were the age at which the child was placed and short term placements. Drawing on attachment theory, and guided by the findings of study one, the author developed a a training programme and a Relational Learning Framework (RLF) to assist foster parents and foster care practitioners to understand the child’s psychological perspective. The second study employed a multiple- baseline design to evaluate the effectiveness of the RLF guided training programme. Statistically significant improvements were found regarding parents’ reports of children’s behaviour problems, parents’ daily stress, the attachment relationship and children’s overall functioning at post-test. However, at follow-up, only the children’s overall functioning remained significantly improved, although increases in positive mind-mindedness became statistically significant, relative to post-test. Some foster parents showed decreases in wellbeing scores, relative to their scores at pre- and post-test. The third study used a pre- post-test design to evaluate the effectiveness of the training programme to assist foster care practitioners to apply the RLF in their clinical practice and to deliver the training programme to foster parents. At post-test, practitioners’ empathy and reflectiveness showed a statistically significant increase but no statistically significant increases were found in practitioners’ mind-mindedness. The training was rated highly by participants and a thematic analysis of diary entries showed that they used the RLF in their practice, were able to help foster parents understand the child’s perspective, and reported positive therapeutic gains from utilising these techniques. The research provides preliminary evidence that foster parent mind-mindedness, in conjunction with attachment perceptions, is associated with the child’s emotional and behaviour problems and the foster parent-child relationship. The results from the intervention study with foster parents showed initially promising gains, which were not maintained at follow-up, and the results from the foster care practitioners study indicated improvements in practitioners’ empathy and reflectiveness, as well as positive outcomes of using the training material.