Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Foster Family Care Service, 1959

Although “fostering” had long referred to various forms of family-based child care, the meaning of the term narrowed by 1959, when the Child Welfare League of America issued these authoritative standards. During the past half-century, foster care has designated a form of paid family care, offered temporarily or on an extended basis, to poor children who cannot remain with their birth parents because of neglect or abuse. This definition of foster care contrasts sharply with adoption, a status presumed to involve legal and emotional permanence as well as financial autonomy. Note also the emphasis on “casework,” “treatment,” and “personality development” in this excerpt. These concerns suggest not only that therapeutic perspectives shaped all child welfare services, but an acute awareness of the hazards associated with the conditions that made foster care necessary in the first place.

Definition of Foster Family Care

Foster family care is the child welfare service which provides substitute family care for a planned period for a child when his own family cannot care for him for a temporary or extended period, and when adoption is neither desirable nor possible.

1.1 Components of foster family care

The distinctive component of foster family care is the development and use of the foster family home to provide substitute life experiences, together with casework and other treatment services for both the child and his parents.

Experiences inherent in family living, which are regarded as essential in achieving maturity and the ability to initiate and sustain a family of one’s own, including the following:

• emotional relationships of the child with other members of the family, relatives and friends
• socialization of child in learning modes of behavior and expectations of his cultural group
• observation of roles of father and mother, and husband and wife, which provide models for a home and family
• sharing of responsibility for housekeeping chores, for purchases, and for management and physical maintenance of a home
• living in a home in a community, making use of community resources and being part of community groups

Casework with child and parents, beginning with the intake study and continuing throughout the period of placement, is essential for formulation, evaluation and appropriate modification of the plan for the child. Lack of adequate casework and failure to define and review goals periodically may result in an outcome detrimental to the child.

Provisions must be made for meeting the normal developmental needs of children under care, and for treatment of their emotional problems, including help to their parents with problems associated with impaired parental functioning. . . .

1.3 Objectives and purpose

The ultimate objectives of foster family care should be the promotion of healthy personality development of the child, and amelioration of problems which are personally or socially destructive.

Foster family care is one of society’s ways of assuring the well-being of children who would otherwise lack adequate parental care. Society assumes certain responsibilities for rearing and nurture of children which own parents are unable to carry, and discharges these responsibilities through the services of social agencies and other social institutions.

Foster family care should provide, for the child whose own parents cannot do so, experiences and conditions which promote normal motivation (care), which prevent further injury to the child (protection), and which correct specific problems that interfere with healthy personality development (treatment).

Foster family care should be designed in such a way as

• to maintain and enhance parental functioning to the fullest extent
• to provide the type of care and services best suited to each child’s needs
• to minimize and counteract hazards to the child’s emotional health inherent in separation from his own family and the conditions leading to it
• to make possible continuity of relationship by preventing replacements
• to facilitate the child’s becoming part of the foster family, school, peer group and larger community
• to protect the child from harmful experiences
• to bring about his ultimate return to his natural family whenever desirable and feasible. . . .

Types of Foster Family Care

. . . . 1.10 Free homes

Foster family homes which provide care without financial reimbursement from the agency, the child or his family, should not be recruited or used at the outset of a child’s placement.

Free homes should be used only in exceptional instances for children who have no continuing relationship with their own parents but cannot be placed for adoption, and when free care is the natural outgrowth of an established relationship between the child and foster parents. The relationship of the foster parents with the agency must be such that the arrangement will permit the agency to carry out its full continuing responsibility for the child’s welfare, and will not adversely affect the child’s care. . . .

Agency Responsibility to the Child

3.1 Casework planning

Services should be given on the basis of an individualized plan for each child, so that he may receive the care and treatment which meet his particular needs and promote his healthy personality development.

3.2 Care and treatment

The agency should make sure that the child receives the basic units of care necessary for normal maturation: a normal foster home, medical and dental care, and opportunities for education, recreation and religious experiences. Casework and other treatment services for overcoming problems affecting personality development should be available as an essential part of foster family care service.

The relation of personality problems in childhood to mental illness, criminality and dependence in adolescence and adulthood, and the increasing number of emotionally disturbed children among those requiring placement, make it imperative to offer treatment services to every child who needs them.

For children who require treatment for persistent emotional disturbance and deviations in personality development which foster family care and casework help alone cannot remedy, the agency may choose to provide such treatment by qualified caseworkers on its own staff, through community resources such as child guidance clinics, or by child psychiatrists in private practice. The choice should be determined in part by the availability of resources within and outside the agency, and in part by the resource which the child can use best.


Source: Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Foster Family Care Service (New York: Child Welfare League of America, 1959), 5-7, 9-10, 24.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
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