Experiences of Mothers of Children in Foster Care; A Qualitative Study

Judith Mendell, Fordham University


This study explores how clients of child protective services (CPS), charged with child neglect, construed meanings of “ mother; ” related to children, caretakers, and system representatives during the intervention; and negotiated case management. In-depth, semi-structured interviews with nine mothers charged with or found guilty of child neglect in New York City were recorded and then analyzed using grounded theory methods. All of the study participants were seen to be an identifiable type of agentic client: explicitly involved with making sense out of the experience and the demands it was making upon them, working hard to sustain their relations with their children, demanding of workers, and only partially compliant with the mandates in their service plans. Three major themes were developed: mother work (how they worked to sustain a positive view of themselves as mothers); trust/mistrust, which was particularly problematic in their relationship with system representatives; and exercising control, exemplified by their approach to their mandates. The themes were affected by constraints on access to children and caretakers that resulted from the differences between regular and foster family care. Variation in access to resources affected by case manager activities were also noted. Major conclusions: practitioners should not confuse partial compliance and non-compliance, and should be sensitive to parental reactions to kinship terminology used. Worker training is needed on the components of the client role in case management and how to better use this knowledge in work with clients.

Subject Area

Social research|Social work

Recommended Citation

Mendell, Judith, "Experiences of Mothers of Children in Foster Care; A Qualitative Study" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3544986.