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A family for a family: The Italian experience


Aim. Daytime foster care is traditionally intended as a child-centred intervention: the focus is on the relationship between the child and the foster family, while birth parents are often of secondary importance. In the project «A family for a family» a different approach is experienced: the intervention of daytime foster care is directed to the entire family in difficulty and involves all the members of the foster family (Maurizio 2007). Both parents and children are involved to contribute to the foster project with their specific capabilities related to age, job, competences, attitudes.

The «A family for a Family» daytime foster care is characterized as a preventive intervention and provides a temporary support to vulnerable families with children (Ressico 2011): the encounter between families leads to create a peer and mutual relationship. The family is supported without being divided or separated and it is considered in its resilient aspects. The project is also oriented to increase the interaction between families, institutions and social services, by helping problematic families to be more trusting towards the institutional services and by developing a growing cooperation between public and private sector.

Method. In 2003 the Department for Minors and The Department for Families of the City of Torino proposed to Paideia Foundation the project idea «A family for a Family». Paideia decided to support it and worked for developing the executive project, offering methodological and financial sustain. The experimental phase of the project started in Torino in 2005 and ended in 2007, when this new kind of daytime foster care has been included in the ordinary policies of the Municipality of Turin (Maurizio 2007). By now, the project has been carried out in 6 areas of four Regions in the North of Italy: Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia, Veneto. Furthermore, 6 Foundations, both private and banking, have been financial partners for the project in order to support the start up. The experimental phase lasts 18-24 months: during this period technical équipe's members, working tools, operative plans and methodological aspects are defined and 8 foster cares are developed. Each foster care lasts approximately 12 months. After the experimental phase, the goal of the project is to be included in the local Social Policies.

The technical équipe is responsible for the operative development of the project, for the selection of the families, for monitoring steps and evaluating actions. The équipe works in partnership with local family groups and associations operating in the social filed, which collaborate in order to find foster families and identify families in need. An important role is played by the foster tutor, which is entrusted for supervising the foster project and helping a good relationship between the two families. The tutor usually belongs to an association or family group and reports periodically to social services about the development of the foster care project (Baiamonte, Bastianoni, Goberti, Maurizio 2011; Monini 2013).

«A family for a family» proposes some working tools like:

  • an educational agreement, which is subscribed by the two families and that defines the objectives, the operational steps and the period of the foster project. The agreement may be modified in case of significant changes of the starting conditions or if the project is prolonged;
  • a monthly group addressed to parents and adult sons and daughters of the foster families, in which they can find support and share their experiences;
  • a monthly supervising group for tutors, in which their coping and support strategies are analyzed.

In the foster project both families have to face the uncertainty as an element that belongs to the relationship: both of them have to deal with their personal and familiar vulnerable aspects and limits. The sharing of this mutual challenge is the key element for a relationship of reciprocity between them.

During the foster project the families meet and call each other frequently (the educational agreement partly defines the modality and frequency). The foster family may help the entrusted family in educational aspects and organizational planning with children, house works, institutional engagements; they go together to sportive and convivial happenings, talk together about difficulties with children, discuss about educational and parental models.

Findings. «A family for a family» is based on the hypothesis that a foster relationship with another family can be effective towards families which are vulnerable if they are early identified. The foster family can show good educational models by being in a peer relation and offering a non professional support, so that it can be easier for the entrusted family to accept to be helped and to develop empowerment strategies. This model of daytime foster care has shown to be effective in case of: difficulties of the families in joining the opportunity offered by the social network of services; illness of one of the family members; couple and parental troubles; issues about educational aspects with children; problems in organizational family management; general fragility of the family system.

In these years about 250 «A family for a family» foster care projects have been developed and more than 200 children have been involved. Approximately half of the entrusted families are not Italian and a high percentage are single-parent families. The evaluation work has been made only for the projects of the 3 areas in which the experimentation has been completed: it has involved the 22 foster projects developed during the experimental phases. Two of them have been concluded in advance, in accordance with the families and in one situation a consensual foster care for the children was activated, with the agreement of the entrusted family.

The evaluation involved all participants of the projects and it has been implemented through individual interviews with foster families and entrusted families; interviews with mentors of the groups for foster families and with the supervisors of the tutor's groups; focus groups with the teams of the tutors, the social workers, some members of the associations, the technical équipe, the institutional partners (Maurizio 2007; Baiamonte, Bastianoni, Goberti, Maurizio 2011).

The entrusted families have found the project effective in helping them to be more self confident and trustful towards others, to better participate to the local opportunities, to learn new educational skills, to develop empowerment strategies about the family management and the parental relationship with their children. They particularly appreciated the non judging attitude of the foster family members, with whom they felt it was possible to talk sincerely, to be understood and encouraged. The foster families pointed out the feeling of having been helpful for the entrusted families in issues about family management and parental relationship, for a more positive approach towards social network services and institutions, for the empowerment of the family system and for coping strategies towards problematic matters. They also considered the project a significant experience for themselves and their children, despite some difficulties had to be faced. Some families asked to be involved in foster care or in other projects of the social services. From the point of view of the social workers the project has been an opportunity to review some aspects of their methodological approach to family problems, to experiment themselves in a different role in daytime foster care projects and to increase the collaboration with the private sector. The passages from experimental phases to ordinary social policies has always needed to rethink the organisational asset in order to guarantee the good progress of the «A family for a family» foster care (Maurizio 2007; Baiamonte, Bastianoni, Goberti, Maurizio 2011; Ressico 2011; Monini 2013).

Conclusions. The outcomes of «A family for a family» have shown the effectiveness of this kind of daytime foster care in most of the foster projects. The analysis we made of the several experiences showed that it can be an effective tool for social workers only if used with preventive goals. It is appropriate for families with inadequate capabilities to deal with the several problematic aspects inside and outside the family, but who don't show injurious behaviour towards children that may require tutelage actions. The entrusted family must have a good level of comprehension and agreement of the foster project, a sufficient self awareness and the right attitude to accept the helping relationship with the foster family. Key elements are also an accurate definition of the micro-objectives of the educational agreement, a careful integration with other interventions planned for the entrusted family and a changeless care of the local partnership.

Main references

Baiamonte, C., Bastianoni, P., Goberti, A., Maurizio, R. (2011). Superare l'allontanamento dei minori dalla famiglia: il progetto di affiancamento familiare, in Bastianoni P., Taurino A., Zullo F. (a cura di). Genitorialità complesse. Interventi di rete a sostegno dei sistemi familiari in crisi. Milano: Unicopli.

Maurizio, R. (a cura di) (2007). Dare una famiglia a una famiglia. Verso una nuova forma di affido. Torino: Edizioni Gruppo Abele.

Monini, T. (2013). Dare una famiglia a una famiglia. L'esperienza del centro per le famiglie di Ferrara. Animazione Sociale, 270, 52-60.

Ressico, M. (2011). Dare una famiglia a una famiglia -Torino, in D. Bramanti, E. Carrà (a cura di). Buone pratiche nei servizi alla famiglia. E-book dell'Osservatorio Nazionale sulla Famiglia. Dicembre 2011 (www.osservatorionazionalefamiglie.it).



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