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"Tightrope Walker Parents": Between the Desire for a Child and the Desire to Foster, An Equilibrium to Negotiate in Quebec Foster Families

Ariane Boyer, Raphaële Noël

Research Framework: Every year in Quebec, thousands of children are supported by the Child Welfare Program following the endangerment of their safety or development. Within the foster care system, foster families welcome these children for varying periods of time and thus expose themselves to their departure. These foster parents who do not wish to adopt the children outright can’t be legally recognized as parents.

Objectives: This article is an inductive qualitative research that aims to explore the affective and psychological aspects of the foster parenting experience.

Methodology: Non-directive interviews were conducted with 10 parents from regular foster families. Each participant was met twice. An analysis was conducted on the verbatim transcripts and different categories were developed. The categories gleaned from this analysis are presented through an integrative model.

Results: Selflessness is predominant trait in the participants’ life trajectory. These people find themselves in a complex position of being both a parent and a non-parent to the children they foster. They express the difficulty of establishing a meaningful relationship with these children who may leave at any moment. They also discuss other important challenges regarding their relationship with the institution. Our results are discussed using the tightrope walker as an analogy for these parents in the integrative category as well as the concept of the desire to foster.

Conclusions: Our results identify the characteristics that led couples to foster vulnerable children and they describe the complexity inherent to the position of being a foster parent. The results also shed light on the precariousness of a relationship that oscillates between the desire to foster and the desire for a child.

Contributions: The present study contributes to a better understanding of the affective and psychological aspects of the foster parenting experience in Quebec. The necessity of specific support for foster parents is also raised.