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What is a family? Constructions of family and parenting after a custody transfer from birth- to foster parents

Journal article
Authors Therese Wissö
Ingrid Höjer
Helena Johansson
Published in Child & Family Social Work
Volume 24
Issue 1
Pages 9-16
ISSN 1356-7500
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Social Work
Pages 9-16
Language en
Keywords contact with birth relatives, empirical research, foster care, parenting/parenthood, social work
Subject categories Family research


The subject of stability for children in long‐term foster care is an emerging field within social work with vulnerable children. In Sweden, the adoption of foster children is not a common occurrence. Instead, when a child has been placed in foster care for 3 years, the local social welfare committee will consider whether the custody of the child should be transferred to the foster parents regardless of the circumstances of the birth parents, in order to secure stability and a sense of family belonging. Consequently, custody transfers raise questions such as “who is family?” and “who is a parent?” This qualitative interview study with custodians and young people who have experienced custody transfer highlights that who counts as family and as a parent is ambiguous. This article draws attention to how negotiations about family and parenthood revolve around biological, emotional, and relational dimensions. Furthermore, we show that stability for children in care has to be understood in terms of processes over time and not as the result of a single decision of custody transfer. Consequently, social workers need to take several aspects into account when they assess family belonging and stability for children in foster care.

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