Metcalfe, William Arthur; Ph.D.
Program of Human Development, Gerontology
College of Human Development and Education; North Dakota State University
The Experience of Older Foster Parents
Major Professor: Dr. Greg Sanders
This research was designed to better understand the experiences of foster parents over the age of 62 in the provision of foster care services. In this qualitative study, 37 foster parents, age of 62 and over, were interviewed to gain an in-depth understanding of their experience. Two articles report the results of this research in Chapters III and IV. The first article presents the themes that reflect the participants’ experiences as older foster parents. The second article focuses on foster parent experiences with support. Themes related to these older foster parents’ overall experiences included: desire to help and make a difference; continuation of family; spouses may influence motivation; and contributing back to the younger generations; expressions of personal values; having support matters; stamina influences activities; society and change; and being older is a real strength. Themes related to support included: social worker relationship is primary; support groups provide a context of respect and understanding; education and training build confidence; respite enables continuation; family and community supports make a difference; financial supports are valued but not a motivator; and life experience is a support to draw upon.. Older foster parents consistently experienced their age and life experience as a strong contributor to self efficacy.
More unique motivations for becoming and continuing as an older foster parent, compared to foster parents in general, included continuation of a family experience and giving back to younger generations through service. These foster parents effectively accommodated challenges of physical stamina related to activities with children.
Future practice considerations should focus on the inclusion of older foster parents as a valuable resource in agency services to children. Their motivations and competence provided a strong contingent of this needed resource. As individuals approach retirement, new information with regard to this group, such as a desire to continue a sense of family and a desire to give back, in combination with positive health and positive accommodation for reduced stamina, may well establish this age group as a focus for foster care recruitment. The increased understanding of the needs of older foster parents indicated that what had been done to effectively support foster parents in general was also effective with older foster parents. In addition, group support experiences were clearly effective with these foster parents.
Future research should include a study of effective recruitment strategies and differences in experienced older foster parents and inexperienced older foster parents. It will also be important to research child outcomes in relation to age of the foster parents and to explore the impact of foster parent age on the relationship with the foster child’s parents and family members.