The Transitioning into Care Project: Honouring children's lived experience of the foster care transition
A hermeneutic phenomenological study was performed to examine children's lived experience of the transition into care. Twenty children, ages 8 to 15, that had been in regular foster care for 6 to 36 months participated in this study. Children were invited to participate in the 'Transitioning into Care Project' which consisted of the "We Care" group workshop (i.e., for the purposes of recruitment and establishing a personal rapport) and "Sharing Ideas" individual semi-structured interview (i.e., for the purpose of examining children's lived experience of the transition into foster care). The "Sharing Ideas" interview addressed three areas: children's experiences of the transition into foster care, their experiences of foster care over time, and their advice for fellow children in care, foster parents, and social services workers about ways to assist children during the foster care transition. Overall, qualitative analyses indicated that children's lived experience of the foster care transition was a significant life transition that consisted of two primary transactions (i.e., the apprehension transaction and the foster home placement transaction) and five main events (i.e., notification of placement into foster care, the home transfer, placement into a new home, loss of relationships, and formation of new relationships). Most foster care transition transaction events elicited ambiguous interpretations (i.e., structural ambiguity, placement reason ambiguity, placement context ambiguity, relationship ambiguity, temporal ambiguity, and ambiguous loss) and stressful appraisals (i.e., threat and harm/loss). Children reported eleven strategies that were used to assist them in coping with stressful experiences resulting from the foster care transition (i.e., accessing social support, internalizing emotion, play, problem-solving, alone time, running away, time, memorializing family, getting acquainted, avoiding confrontation, and information seeking). The most common coping strategies used by children were accessing social support and internalizing emotion. When sharing advice with other children in care, foster parents, and social services workers, children expressed the importance of having social support in their lives, the ability to be engaged in decision-making, the opportunity to visit family and friends on a regular basis, and the need to build a trusting and personal relationship between children in care and their respective foster parents and social services workers. It was concluded that preserving the beliefs and commitments of children in care could assist them by minimizing ambiguous interpretations and subsequent stressful appraisals during the foster care transition.