Foster cuckoos upset nests

March 27, 1998

THES reporters on the British Psychological Society's annual conference held in Brighton this week

FOSTER care placements are in serious jeopardy because of an explosive mismatch of children's ages, research from University College Cork has found.

Psychologist Deborah Browne has identified what she calls a "cuckoo in the nest effect", in which foster children's demands for parental attention supersede those of birth children in foster homes when ages are similar.

The damaging effect, she said, is much less common when foster children are placed in families where birth children are older. Rival children of a similar age can cause such severe conflict and distress that placements fail, she told the conference.

Her research, which included 1 interviews with foster parents and social workers, found that the failure of placements was most commonly related to conflict between the children in the family, and distress of the birth children.

Her paper, Cuckoo in the Nest - Exploring the Relationship Between Foster Parents' Children and the Foster Child, argues that the damaging effect is much more common when a foster child is placed in a family among younger children, or children within three years of age of each other.

Ms Browne said: "Birth children can probably be justifiably expected to feel frustrated and angry at the attention a non-related child is getting."

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