The psychological wellbeing of parents and foster carers: The role of self-efficacy and challenging behaviours
Emily McCaffery was a student in the Masters of Clinical Psychology program. She completed her research in 2013 under the supervision of Dr Campbell and Associate Professor Juanita Todd. Emily was particularly interested in foster carer mental health and wellbeing. Below you can read a brief summary of the outcomes below.
Parental self-efficacy refers to the belief in one’s competence and effectiveness in managing a range of tasks and situations relating to parenting. Past research has demonstrated that parenting self-efficacy can have an impact on psychological wellbeing and also parenting behaviours. More specifally, it has been suggested that when a parent believe in their own ability to parent well, they are more effective in managing challenging behaviours (from the children in their care) as well as being better able to modulate their own stress levels. Foster parenting and biological parenting are significantly different tasks with foster carers experiencing a range of stressors that regular parents are not typically exposed to. An understanding of the impact of parenting self-efficacy on parental psychological wellbeing and in managing parenting stressors is important in developing and implementing appropriate supports for foster carers.
The current study was conducted to extend existing knowledge relating to the role of self-efficacy in the psychological wellbeing of foster carers and subsequently how best to support them in caring for children in foster care. A total of 68 parents and 68 foster carers were recruited from foster care agencies and support groups in NSW and Victoria, parent support groups, social networking, and the University of Newcastle. Participants completed an online survey which asked questions about parenting stress, emotional wellbeing, challenging behaviours displayed by children in their care and demographic information.
The results of this survey showed no significant differences between foster carers and regular parents for symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-efficacy or parent distress. This result was unexpected due to the different types and levels of stress typically experienced by foster carers and parents. However, what we did find was that foster carers reported much higher levels of child challenging behaviours. It was also apparent that the child/ren in their care required more intense levels of care due to behavioural or medical conditions.
Overall, regardless of being a biological parent or a foster carer, higher levels of parental self-efficacy was associated with better psychological wellbeing and with lower levels of challenging behaviour from the child. These findings suggest that parenting self-efficacy is a protective factor in managing stressful situations and maintaining good psychological wellbeing. These findings may be useful in developing and implementing appropriate support and training for foster carers and parents in managing parenting stressors.