Sociologists and psychologists at St Petersburg University have carried out research into secondary abandonment of children by foster families and proposed their own methods of preventing such cases.

According to the scholars' conclusion, it is possible to decrease the risk of secondary abandonments through mandatory support for foster families: assigning a specific specialist to each family; contacts with parents on a regular basis to promptly solve emerging problems; maintaining an electronic database with information about families; and regular monitoring of results.

The academic paper was published in the journal Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya

Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies].

The research was conducted by: Olga Bezrukova, Candidate of Sociology, Head of the Department of Sociology of Youth and Youth Policy; and Valentina Samoilova, Candidate of Psychology, Associate Professor at the Department of Theory and Practice of Social Work. The scholars interviewed 67 people: foster parents and children from foster families; employees of family assistance centres and social agencies; as well as experts from the Office of the Children's Rights Commissioner in St Petersburg.

After talking with the respondents, the scholars came to the conclusion that in many cases the reason for the secondary abandonment of the child is the very system of organising the placement of children in foster families. The researchers have identified several groups of problems that have a negative impact in the real world: legal, organisational, informational, personnel, and cultural. According to the scholars, sometimes the principles of choosing a family for a child are not obvious, and resources for high-quality legal and psychological support for foster children and parents are often insufficient.

It is necessary to develop a model based on the principles of: mandatory support for a substitute family; the establishment of contractual relations; and the adoption of mutual obligations, including the obligation of parents to regularly interact with experts. The introduction of these principles into the practice of supporting substitute families would make it possible to track family dynamics, promptly help in resolving conflicts, and adequately respond to the emerging needs of children and parents.

Olga Bezrukova, co-author of the research, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University

According to the scholars, it is necessary to assign a specific specialist to supervise each family in order to establish the highest quality interaction with it. Additionally, the researchers consider it important to regularly monitor the situation in foster families and collect feedback from both parents and children.

The researchers propose that information about the family be generalised and stored in an electronic database. This would make it possible to monitor positive trends and timely identify ‘red flags’, which means they could provide timely the necessary support.

‘It is essential to create electronic databases of foster families for their support. It will record the history of each substitute family and the trajectory of the foster child's “motion”,’ explains Olga Bezrukova.

Public awareness-building efforts are also seen as important by the scholars. Parents do often not know how and where to get the relevant information about: raising a foster child; resolving conflict situations; or receiving psychological, medical or financial assistance.

‘The research results showed that the substitute family needs a motivating and barrier-free organisation of support at all stages of foster parenting. A systematic approach to solving family issues could be provided by a team of psychologists, social service workers, social care teachers, lawyers, doctors and the parents themselves. Optimisation of work with a substitute family requires meaningful interdepartmental interaction of specialists from different departments, services and organisations. This is currently characterised by fragmentation, inconsistency, and incoherence of goals and values,’ concluded the scholars.