A sense of belonging: meanings of family and home in long-term foster care

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Permanency has been a key goal of the child welfare system for nearly forty years, with most discussion of this issue focusing how best to achieve legal and physical permanence. Although there has been some attention to the subjective dimensions of permanence, there has been no exploration of how fostered children develop a sense of belonging to their substitute families. This article draws on interviews with fostered children and their foster carers, conducted in the course of a larger study of outcomes in permanent placements, to present a qualitative analysis of belonging in long-term foster care. Interviews with fostered children revealed four types of perceived belonging: ‘as if’, ‘just like’, qualified and provisional. These were shaped by the interplay of a variety of factors, including day-to-day family practices in foster families, the actions and commitment of foster and birth parents, children's mental representations of their past and current experiences in these families and the meaning that children ascribed to blood and non-blood relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-971
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date25 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • looked after children
  • adoption
  • foster care
  • permanency
  • ambiguous loss

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