In Germany, increasing numbers of children are taken into care by local
authorities and youth services, and this leads to a rise in placements in
either children’s homes or in emergency and short-term foster settings.
The legal basis for the removal of children from their birth family is regulated
by the Child and Youth Services Act in § 42 SGB VIII (social security
code). There are high demands on short-term foster families, in that they
represent a dynamic, highly complex element within the care system
provided by the state’s children services. In addition, these families often
have their own biological children to look after, and the care of children
in crisis or in emergency situations is added to this pre-existing responsibility.
The subjects at the centre of this study are the biological children of
short-term foster families. This group was selected because, like their
parents, they experience a high turnover of foster children in their family.
This requires them to develop specific coping skills in order to master
their situation. Also, only a very small number of studies so far have investigated
the biological children’s experiences of growing-up in a foster
The study employed an empirical approach that was based on the biographical
research paradigm and on the Grounded Theory methodology
developed by Strauss & Corbin . The subjects were identified through
theoretical and selective sampling, and the research data were generated
through in-depth interviews using these qualitative data, it was possible
to reconstruct the biological children’s experiences of growing up in
a short-term foster family, as well as the strategies they developed for
coping with this situation, and the support they received in the process.
The results of this study demonstrate a range of experiences that are
unique to the context of short-term fostering. The majority of the biological
children tended to feel overlooked by their parents, who were often
struggling to cope with the challenging behaviours and problems of their
foster children. In all of the included cases, the mother was the main carer.
A significant result of the study was that the mother’s role behaviours
towards her biological children, compared to her behaviours towards her
foster children, determined her own children’s experiences and perceptions
of growing up in a short-term foster family. The results of this study
suggest that children of mothers who aimed to treat biological and foster
children the same, were at risk of feeling alienated. In contrast, mothers
who adopted distinct role behaviours (i.e. biological mother versus professional
mother) appeared to better support their biological children in
developing positive attitudes towards living in short-term foster families.