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Séverine Euillet & Hélène Join-Lambert / Université Paris-Nanterre

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Maintaining child-parent relationships in long-term foster placements: a matter of representations

This presentation is based on a longitudinal research conducted with 40 children placed in foster care, their carers and parents. At the first wave in 2006 children were aged 3-4 years, and at the second wave in 2011 they were 9-10 years old. The overall objective was to find out about the dynamics of relationships between these main characters of foster care. A specificity of the French child protection system is that biological parents keep their parental rights during an out-of-home placement even in cases of long-term placements, with an emphasis on the goal of maintaining the parent-child relationships. Parent-child meetings are used as the main tool for maintaining relationships, and our research highlighted that the representations parents and foster carers have on these meetings, has a high impact on their relationships towards each other. In order to illustrate the importance of meetings and of representations, we will analyse the case of two sisters placed with different foster families. Repeated interviews with the mother and the two carers reveal the representations each of them has on the impacts of meetings; of the mother’s competences; and on the parent-child relationships. This is coherent with the overall results of the research, which also shows a tendency towards diminishing the frequency of parent-child meetings and towards a decrease of parental self-esteem over time during long-term placements. As a conclusion, our analysis questions the role of parent-child meetings in combining long-term placement and the principle of maintaining parent-child relationships.

Keywords: longitudinal research, mutual representations, parent-child meetings, France