Child-hood experiences of foster care in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province. An adult life history perspective
Matinka, Godfrey Wilton
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The social welfare policy context changed dramatically from apartheid to post-apartheid in the South African transition to democracy. The new social developmental approach towards professional social work service delivery did not decrease the demand for foster care and thus the need for alternative child care placements continue to rise. Many children are still removed from their primary caregivers at a very young age and stay in foster care until they become adults. The goal of this research study was to explore , understand and describe the perceptions and experiences of adults regarding their lived experiences as foster children through the lens of Life Course Theory. Key objectives were to explore, understand and describe the foster care and childhood perceptions and experiences of participants through their journeys and transitions into adulthood; to explore, understand and describe how professional social work services are delivered in the field of foster care in the Overstrand Service Delivery Area and with these reflections, provide recommendations for improvements in foster care support services. In conducting this study, a qualitative single case design was implemented with the aim to contextualise the topic from a local, regional and social work perspective. A purposive sample of nine adult participants (four adult women and five adult men between the ages 25 and 35), across racial groups, i.e. young adults who entered alternative foster care as children, were used for the study. Data was collected in selected sub-areas of the Overstrand Municipal area, with a specific focus on the increasing foster care caseloads of registered non-profit child protection organisations (NPOs), particularly their satellite offices of Hermanus, Kleinmond, Gansbaai and the Stanford areas which form part of the Overberg region in the Western Cape. Data collection techniques consisted of document studies and semi-structured interviews, using a life-history approach for each individual partcipant. Data analysis was guided by the eight-step thematic analytical framework provided by Tesch. Findings concluded that social workers with the necessary resources generally need to respond in more appropriate ways to adequately prepare youth for the period of ‘transitioning’ out of foster care into independence and adulthood. The study documented evidence of how clients view the foster-care supervision services that were rendered. The study should thus guide and allow practitioner social workers to seriously review current social policies and practices regarding foster care. During the life course of ‘identity seeking’ individuals the struggles and challenges as told by the adult participants in this contextual study became better known and understood. As a practitioner and social work researcher, the researcher was also able to identify with the current practice dilemmas faced by designated child protection NPO organisations working under many constraints rendering foster-care services at local community and family level on behalf of the state. The research study should alert policy makers (including academic training instutitions), at local state and organizational levels, as well as individual social work professionals, of their constitutional, citizenship and ethical obligations to take cognisance, and great care of the significance of case file records that become historical evidence of the work and services rendered by professionals. The researcher is registered with the South African Council of Social Service Professions and is bound by the social work code of ethics which include research practice. Ethics considerations that were key to this study, e.g. obtaining informed consent, protecting the anonymity of the individual participants and participating organizations, and to ensure that both records and documents, and their identity and status are kept confidential.