“Above everything else, he was a wee boy who wanted to be claimed”: a grounded theory based exploration of Scottish female foster carers’ experience of difficult to manage behaviour in light of their attachment characteristics
Forsyth, Lise Wilma
Background: The role of foster carer is a complex and emotionally demanding one. This is particularly true in the presence of difficult behaviour which can, at times, leave the foster carer feeling overwhelmed and increases the risk of placement breaking down. It is therefore important to find ways to support foster carers. The present study sought to explore the lived experience of foster carers caring for children who presented with difficult to manage behaviour, with consideration given to their attachment characteristics. Aim: The primary aim of this study was to generate a grounded theory of foster carers’ experience of caring for a child who presents with difficult to manage behaviour, in order to inform supports. Method: The study adopted a qualitatively driven mixed methods design (QUAL+quan). Grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) was used as the primary component. Eight female foster carers, with either past or present experience of caring for a child who they felt presented them with difficult to manage behaviour, were interviewed. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Adult attachment data was gathered to elaborate and enhance the interpretation of the foster carers’ narratives. Foster carer’s attachment characteristics were measured using The Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ: Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994), and the presence of behavioural difficulties were confirmed using the Assessment Checklist for Children (ACC: Tarren-Sweeney, 2007). Results: A core category emerged from the grounded theory analysis (‘Making Sense’) in addition to five main categories (‘Personal Impact’, ‘What Helps’, ‘What Makes it Difficult’, ‘Responding’ and ‘The Relationship’). The overarching theme to emerge from the research was the influence foster carer’s level of reflection and understanding of the behaviour (their mentalizing capacity) had on their experience of the child’s difficult behaviour, which appeared to relate to their attachment characteristics in addition to a number of internal and external factors. Consideration is given to the psychological process that emerged from the categories generated from the foster carers’ narratives, and the consequent proposed ground theory. Conclusions: The findings confirm the complexity of the foster caring role, and suggest the positive impact foster carer’s reflective stance can have on their experience of difficult behaviour in the child they care for. Research strengths and limitations are discussed, in addition to clinical practice and research implications.