The role of foster parents’ basic psychological needs satisfaction and frustration as predictors of autonomy-supportive parenting and the functioning of foster children

Johan Vanderfaeillie, Stacey Van Den Abbeele, Giulia Fiorentino, Laura Gypen, Delphine West, Frank Van Holen - Children and Youth Services Review


Self-determination theory (SDT) has been applied to several domains. SDT-research in parenting focuses on parents’ perception of satisfaction or frustration of basic psychological needs (BPN) of autonomy, competence and relatedness. BPN satisfaction is considered a necessary condition for parenting high on autonomy support, structure and involvement, which in turn promotes emotional, behavioural and academic functioning of children. Although many studies supported the SDT-model in parenting situations, SDT has not been investigated in foster care. This study aims at examining if processes proposed by SDT are supported in a foster care sample.

97 Flemish foster mothers filled in questionnaires measuring BPN satisfaction and frustration in general, BPN satisfaction in relationship with the foster child, parenting and functioning of the foster child.

BPN satisfaction was associated with autonomy support, structure and involvement. BPN frustration was associated with controlling parenting. Contrary to our expectations, autonomy-supportive parenting did not impact significantly the functioning of the foster child, suggesting a direct association of BPN satisfaction and frustration with the foster child’s functioning. Only BPN satisfaction in relationship with the foster child and psychological control were associated with problem behaviour, and only BPN satisfaction in relationship with the foster child was associated with prosocial behaviour.

Although research in parenting in many studies confirmed hypotheses inferred from SDT, in this study SDT was not univocally supported. Several explanations are proposed and discussed.