Foster Care as a Viable Alternative to Institutional Care in the Middle East: Community Acceptance and Stigma Across Type of Placement in Jordan

Michael J. MacKenzie, Kathryne B. Brewer, Craig S. J. Schwalbe, Robin E. Gearing, Rawan W. Ibrahim, Jude Batayneh, Dua’a M. Darwish, Jihad Al-Kharabsh

This paper describes a study that assessed the attitudes of people in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan toward the implementation of foster care as an alternative to institutions for children. According to the paper, many middle and low-income countries continue to utilize large institutional settings as the predominant model of alternative care for children, despite growing evidence that these settings are detrimental to children's development. Middle Eastern children and youth who have been institutionalized often experience a high degree of stigma upon returning to their communities and often struggle with making friends and finding employment. However, family foster care as an alternative to institutionalization is not a commonly accepted practice in the Middle East and it is believed that the stigma of foster care placement may act as a barrier to the implementation of non-kin foster care programs. The Jordanian Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) and UNICEF partnered with the Community-Family Integration Teams (C-FIT) group to develop alternatives care arrangements for children, and is moving towards the implementation of kinship and non kin models of foster care. Ensuring that the new programs and interventions are culturally congruent and acceptable to the community is essential as cultural stigma associated with foster care could negatively impact service utilization.

Therefore, the authors of this study sought to examine the local attitudes surrounding foster care and institutional care models in the Hashemite Kingdom, determining the potential acceptance of alternative care programs. The researchers used an experimental vignette design, surveying a sample of 111 adults in Amman who were presented with vignettes which varied as to whether the 14 year-old boy in question was described as raised in an orphanage, with a relative in a kinship foster placement, or with a non-kin foster family. The participants answered a series of questions about their acceptance of the child, stigma that the community might attach to the child, and potential outcomes for the child. The researchers found no differences across the acceptance and stigma questions between the kinship and non-kin foster conditions of the child. The two foster care options presented to the participants were found to be at least as acceptable as the current institutional models across all domains, and in some cases less stigma was attached to children reared in foster care. The adults surveyed were also more likely to accept the child going to school with, or being friends with, their children if the boy was presented as being in foster care rather than an institution. The authors conclude that the results represent the first evidence of public acceptance of foster care as a model of care in Jordan. These potentially changing attitudes may inform the process of local stakeholders implementing alternatives to institutional care on a meaningful and sustainable scale in the Kingdom and regionally.

©Mu’ayad H. Al-Zu’bi