Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 159–169 | Cite as

Foster Parents’ Nutritional Strategies and Children’s Well-Being

  • Jesse J. Helton
  • Jill C. Schreiber
  • Barbara H. Fiese


Among their many responsibilities, foster parents are tasked with providing healthy food and proper nutrition to children with a variety of physical, psychological, and emotional needs. Using the lens of symbolic interactionism, this exploratory mixed methods study examined how foster parents attend to the nutritional needs of abused and neglected children. Methods used included both quantitative surveys and qualitative follow-up interviews. Surveys were completed by 23 foster parents in a large, Midwest metropolitan area. Parents reported they provided their children balanced meals, although one-third of households reported instances of food insecurity. During qualitative interviews, foster parents (N = 9) described how children arrived at their home with a variety of unhealthy eating habits, some severe in nature. Parents discussed strategies used to modify and improve eating patterns, including offering healthy food choices, having children plan meals, and gathering as a family for daily dinners. In general, parents understood the link between unhealthy eating and past childhood trauma, but also reported being unprepared for more serious eating problems like hoarding. Findings indicate that foster parents need food assistance to increase food security as well as training in assessing and responding a variety of unhealthy child eating behaviors.


Foster care Nutrition Child wellbeing Mixed-methods 



We would like to thank Ruth Ann Jennings and Steven McCarty, as well as Melissa Smith and Jessica Harms of Ascend CHC in Champaign, Illinois for reviewing this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Financial Disclosure

The authors have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.

Funding Source

This study was supported, in part, by a grant from the Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program awarded to the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesse J. Helton
    • 1
  • Jill C. Schreiber
    • 2
  • Barbara H. Fiese
    • 3
  1. 1.College of Public Health and Social Justice, School of Social WorkSt. Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Social WorkSouthern Illinois University at EdwardsvilleEdwardsvilleUSA
  3. 3.Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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