Processing the Removal and Managing the Moves or Removals of Foster Children: A Qualitative Exploration of Foster Parents’ Experiences

  • Jennifer NewquistEmail author
  • Linda D. Ladd
  • Morgan E. Cooley


Foster parents are crucial to the function of the child welfare system. Despite developments in research related to the grief and loss of foster parents, more research would be helpful in building a stronger understanding and knowledge base for helping foster parents manage the removals of foster children in their home. This study included ten foster parents from the United States and explored their experience with loss and the stress associated with the expected or unexpected removal of a foster child from their home. The findings of the data analysis yielded three overarching themes: (1) managing or coping with ambiguous loss; (2) systemic impacts of a move or removal on a family; (3) need for helpful preparation or support for dealing with the loss of foster child. Implications include better preparation and support for foster parents dealing with moves and removals of foster children, as well as considering less abrupt removals of children from foster homes.


Foster care Foster parents Foster care transfers Grief Ambiguous loss 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (Texas Woman's University IRB, Reference # 17011) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Adams, E., Hassett, A. R., & Lumsden, V. (2018). What do we know about the impact of stress on foster carers and contributing factors? Adoption & Fostering,42, 338–353. Scholar
  2. Boss, P. G. (1980). Normative family stress: Family boundary changes across the life-span. Family Relations,29, 445–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boss, P. G. (1993). Boundary ambiguity: A block to cognitive coping. In A. P. Turnbull, et al. (Eds.), Cognitive coping, families, and disability (pp. 257–270). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  4. Boss, P. G. (1999). Ambiguous loss. Learning to live with unresolved grief. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Boss, P. G. (2002). Family stress management: A contextual approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boss, P. G. (2006). Loss, trauma, and resilience: Therapeutic work with ambiguous loss. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  7. Buehler, C., Cox, M. E., & Cuddeback, G. (2003). Foster parents’ perceptions of factors that promote or inhibit successful fostering. Qualitative Social Work,2, 61–83. Scholar
  8. Buehler, C., Rhodes, K. W., Orme, J. G., & Cuddeback, G. (2006). The potential for successful family foster care: Conceptualizing competency domains for foster parents. Child Welfare,85(3), 523–558.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Children’s Bureau. (2019). Major federal legislation concerned with child protection, child welfare, and adoption. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
  10. Cooley, M. E., & Petren, R. E. (2011). Foster parent perceptions of competency: Implications for parent training. Children and Youth Services Review,33, 1968–1974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Creswell, J. W., & Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining validity in qualitative research. Theory into Practice,39, 124–130. Scholar
  14. Edelstein, S. (1981). When foster children leave: Helping foster parents to grieve. Child Welfare,60(7), 467–473.Google Scholar
  15. Edelstein, S. B., Burge, D., & Waterman, J. (2001). Helping foster parents cope with separation, loss, and grief. Child Welfare,80(1), 5–25.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Geiger, J. M., Hayes, M. J., & Lietz, C. A. (2013). Should I stay or should I go? A mixed methods study examining the factors influencing foster parents’ decisions to continue or discontinue providing foster care. Children and Youth Services Review,35, 1356–1365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gross, P. S. (2007). Biological children in therapeutic foster families: A phenomenological study. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (3277652).Google Scholar
  18. Hannah, B., & Woolgar, M. (2018). Secondary trauma and compassion fatigue in foster carers. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry,23, 629–643. Scholar
  19. Hebert, C. G., & Kulkin, H. (2016). Attending to foster parent grief: Exploring the use of grief awareness training for child welfare workers. Adoption & Fostering,40, 128–139. Scholar
  20. Hebert, C. G., Kulkin, H., & McLean, M. (2013). Grief and foster parents: How do foster parents feel when a foster child leaves their home? Adoption & Fostering,37, 253–267. Scholar
  21. Höjer, I. (2004). What happens in the foster family? A study of fostering relationships in Sweden. Adoption & Fostering,28, 38–48. Scholar
  22. Höjer, I. (2007). Sons and daughters of foster carers and the impact of fostering on their everyday life. Child and Family Social Work,12, 73–83. Scholar
  23. Hudson, P., & Levasseur, K. (2002). Supporting foster parents: Caring voices. Child Welfare,81(6), 853–877.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. MacGregor, T. E., Rodger, S., Cummings, A. L., & Leschied, A. W. (2006). The needs of foster parents: A qualitative study of motivation, support, and retention. Qualitative Social Work,5, 351–368. Scholar
  26. Miller, J., Cooley, M., Owens, L., & Fletcher, J. (2019). Self-care practices among foster parents: An exploratory study. Children & Youth Services Review,98, 206–212. Scholar
  27. Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Murray, L., Tarren-Sweeney, M., & France, K. (2011). Foster carer perceptions of support and training in the context of high burden of care. Child and Family Social Work,16, 149–158. Scholar
  29. Octoman, O., & McLean, S. (2014). Challenging behaviour in foster care: What supports do foster parents want? Adoption & Fostering,38, 149–158. Scholar
  30. Palinkas, L. A., Horwitz, S. M., Green, C. A., Wisdom, J. P., Duan, N., & Hoagwood, K. (2015). Purposeful sampling for qualitative data collection and analysis in mixed method implementation research. Administration and Policy In Mental Health,42, 533–544. Scholar
  31. Rhodes, K. W., Orme, J. G., & Buehler, C. (2001). A comparison of family foster parents who quit, consider quitting, and plan to continue fostering. Social Service Review,75, 84–114. Scholar
  32. Riggs, D. W., & Willsmore, S. (2012). Experiences of disenfranchised grief arising from the unplanned termination of a foster placement: An exploratory South Australian study. Adoption & Fostering,36, 57–66. Scholar
  33. Thompson, H. M., Wojciak, A. S., & Cooley, M. E. (2015). Through their lens: Case Managers’ experiences of the child welfare system. Qualitative Social Work,16, 411–429. Scholar
  34. Thompson, L., & McArthur, M. (2009). Who’s in our family? An application of the theory of family boundary ambiguity to the experiences of former foster carers. Adoption & Fostering,33, 68–79. Scholar
  35. Urquhart, L. R. (1989). Separation and loss: Assessing the impacts on foster parent retention. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal,6, 193–209. Scholar
  36. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau. (2014). The AFCARS report: Preliminary FY 2016 estimates as of October 2017 (No. 24).Google Scholar
  37. Watson, A., & Jones, D. (2002). The impact of fostering on foster carers’ own children. Adoption & Fostering,26, 49–55. Scholar
  38. Whiting, J. B., & Huber, P. T. (2007). Significant stress and real rewards: The ecological and ambiguous experiences of foster parents. Relational Child & Youth Care Practice,20(2), 9–20.Google Scholar
  39. Williams, D. (2017). Grief, loss, and separation: Experiences with birth children of foster carers. Child and Family Social Work,22, 1448–1455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stephen F Austin State UniversityNacogdochesUSA
  2. 2.Texas Woman’s UniversityDentonUSA
  3. 3.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

Personalised recommendations