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Background:

The Children’s Rights Convention (CRC) (1989), states that in the case of out-of-home placement, the continuity of a child’s religious background must be taken into account. However, in spite of efforts by foster care agencies to find matches, a substantial (and growing) group of foster children in The Netherlands live with religiously non-matched foster families (Bellaart & Day, 2015). With approximately 60% of all placements becoming permanent (Pleegzorg Nederland, 2017), an out-of-home placement often involves important religious shifts, and sometimes religious conflicts, for foster children (Brown Corkran, 2005). Furthermore, children with an immigrant background are overrepresented in Dutch foster care.Through unpacking ethical arguments in dialogue with an empirical examination, this study will disentangle how the best interests of foster children growing up in a religiously non-matched placement can be safeguarded in order to provide them with healthy psychosocial adjustment. In ethical debates, at least three important arguments can be disentangled and evaluated. First, waiting for a religious match may jeopardize a youth’s psychosocial adjustment (Smith, 1996). However, developing self-identity and authenticity in the religious tradition in which a foster child was initially raised can be important for their psychosocial health (Brown Corkran, 2005). Last, considering that in The Netherlands, religiously non-matched placements are common, it is important to remember children’s right to religious freedom (Fineman & Worthington, 2009).

 

Main Research Question:

How can the interests of foster children in religiously non-matched placements best be safeguarded in order to stimulate their healthy psychosocial and religious identity development?

 

Sub-Research Questions:

A)What ethical arguments can be identified about religiously non-matched placement in foster care, and what do these arguments imply for the best interests of the foster children?

B) What religious identity developments do foster children in non-matched families report?

C) Is the religious identity development of foster children in non-matched placements related to religious identity conflicts, and herewith, to their psychosocial development? If so, how?

D) What practical guidance for foster parents and foster care professionals can be derived from a synthesis of sub-research questions A, B, and C if we want to successfully address religious differences and conflicts in non-matched foster care and promote foster children’s healthy psychosocial development?

 

Research Approach in Seven Phases:

1)In a qualitative focus group interview, we will collect the most pressing religious issues and conflicts foster care, which will partly guide the direction of Phase 2.

2)Review of literature of the ethical arguments involved in the intersection of religious non-matches in foster care in order to disentangle how these situations (and conflicts involved) can be constructively addressed.

3)Advisory board meeting to obtain feedback about ethical arguments as identified in phase two, resulting in an ethical framework for studying the empirical reality.

4)Advisory board meeting for feedback on our qualitative research plan, where we have interconnected our ethical framework with questions about the empirical reality of foster children.

5)We will conduct qualitative research interviews with n=24 religiously non-matched foster children and n=16 religiously matched controls (aged 12–19). For each foster child, we will also interview one foster parent, and in approximately 20% of cases, a biological parent [total number of all interviewees n ~ 90).

6)Advisory board meeting consisting of project team members and collaborative partners to compare and synthesize the ethical literature results and the empirical research findings.

7)Synthesis of the outcomes of Phases 1–6 to create a digital toolkit, through which we will deliver practical guidance for foster care professionals and foster parents.

 

Anticipated Gains and Products:

1)Scientific article one: ethical dilemmas involved with religious shifts in foster care and how ethical argumentation can inform the management of these dilemmas;

2)Scientific article two: how religiously non-matched foster children, their foster parents, and their parents narrate of religious shifts, and the relation to psychosocial and religious identity development of foster children;

3)the development of a toolkit (E-learning module and additional practical guidance) for religious issues in foster care. The target group consists of foster care professionals and foster families who contextualize a religious shift for foster children. We will make all these materials available (for free) at www.pleegzorg.nl, a website that already has great visibility. The toolkit is subjected to feedback from Pleegzorg Nederland (a national organization representing all foster care agencies);

4)a national symposium where we present Gains 1–3 to stakeholders.

 

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