Research Watch

Decolonizing Foster Care: Recommendations for Foster Parents to Promote the Cultural and Relational Roots of Indigenous Children

Year of Publication
Reviewed By
Natalie R. Beltrano

Oliver, C. (2020). Inclusive foster care: How foster parents support cultural and relational connections for Indigenous children. Child & Family Social Work, 25, 585-593. DOI: 10.1111/cfs.12730


Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) conducted a mixed-methods study to understand how foster parents engaged in an inclusive foster care model for Indigenous children and youth. This model of foster care focuses on supporting Indigenous children and youth to develop and/or maintain connections to their cultural and relational roots. Developed by staff, foster parents, birth parents, and elders, this model focuses on promoting children and youth well-being through collaboration of the child’s or youth’s circle, which includes members of the child’s or youth’s kinship family, foster parents, and social workers.

All foster parents associated with the VACFSS were invited by mail to participate in the study. In total, ninety-two foster parents volunteered to participate. The findings presented in this paper report on the second and final stage of the study, which included semi-structured interviews with foster parents. All Indigenous foster parents were interviewed (n = 4) and in addition, to ensure diversity, non-Indigenous foster parents (n = 9) were also selected; foster care experience ranged from one to over 20 years. The following themes were identified by the foster parents to support relationships between themselves and the child’s or youth’s family: (a) Taking it one step at a time (i.e., meeting with parents through pick up and drop offs and slowly building the relationship); (b) Setting boundaries while remaining open (i.e., open to sharing contact information, addressing and reporting of safety concerns as needed with a goal of rebuilding relationships; (c) Accepting inconsistency, specifically with visits; and (d) Understanding the (his)stories (i.e., getting to know the parent as a person). The foster parents also identified the following themes to support the development of the child’s or youth’s cultural connections: (a) Drawing on lived experience as an Indigenous adult; (b) Taking the initiative (i.e., actively seeking out information about the child’s or youth’s Indigenous identity); (c) Have a choice of cultural engagement opportunities that meet multiple needs; (d) Homecoming to the child’s or youth’s territory; and (e) Taking advantage of school-based opportunities. Additionally, the recruitment of Indigenous foster parents is a key factor in promoting an inclusive foster care model. The researcher suggested that a shift in policy, training, ceremony and supports may assist the system in moving towards reconciliation.


Methodological Notes

A Participatory Action Research model was utilized over a two-stage process. The first stage included documenting the activities that foster parents engaged in to promote inclusive foster care. These findings were not reported in this manuscript, nor was the response rate of participants.

Certain limitations were acknowledged, such as the author being the sole coder of all transcripts, which may impact the reliability of the findings. In addition, details on how themes were developed were not reported. The themes were presented to foster parents, staff, community partners and elders for member-checking. A further limitation exists as the findings cannot be generalized to all foster parents at VACFSS due to the small sample size. Children, youth, and families’ voices were not included which could have limited the findings.