Clara Bombach, Thomas Gabriel, Renate Stohler


Family-based solutions for children in care are the preferred option in European countries on the grounds of both cost and quality. Yet, too often, foster care placements intended to be long term are terminated unexpectedly early. Few studies have identified factors leading to unexpected breakdown and fewer still have translated such findings into practical guidance for professionals. This article outlines: (a) the ambiguity and contradictions in the use of terminology (e.g., instability, breakdown, disruption) in several international studies; (b) the adoption of a one-sided, file-based, systemic perspective in recent studies of foster care instability, breakdown, and disruption; and (c) empirical data collected from interviews with foster children. Foster care breakdown is shown to be a process that takes place on several levels. In addition to the actual breakdown event, the situation of the child before the placement, the situation during the placement, the emergence and development of the crisis and the consequences of the breakdown for all those involved are all part of the process. It is only in retrospect that the ending of a foster care process is perceived as a breakdown. Assessments of whether it was planned or unplanned, expected or unexpected, and desirable or undesirable are meaningful only from an individual perspective. Such a perspective must be clearly identified: different people experience and remember the same breakdown in different ways, and its significance for their personal biographies may vary.


foster care, breakdown, placement change, perspective of foster children

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Copyright (c) 2018 Clara Bombach, Thomas Gabriel, Renate Stohler

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International Journal of Child, Youth & Family Studies

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© University of Victoria
Victoria, BC Canada


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