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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Adult Foster Care - A Sociological Account

What is this?

This is my initial attempt to get going with some kind of diary of my progress on the PhD i've just stated. My reason for doing this - apart from its novelty value and that it may well be the perfect displacement activity - is to develop my writing style and explore my ideas about the topic and, you never know, communicate with others.

What is this PhD about?

Briefly - i'm looking at the care of people with long term mental health problems in private homes, a kind of "adult fostering" where non-professionals are paid a modest amount to look after someone who might otherwise be in an institution. The intention is that the "adopted" person lives as one of the family and is treated as such by the rest of the household.

In the UK this is known as "adult placement", to distinguish it from fostering for children or "child placement" whereas in the US it is known as "adult foster care". To me the UK definition simply serves to obscure the meaning of this form of care - however it appears to be the result of sincere attempts to avoid the infantilising connotations implied by the use of childcare practises for adults.

I first came across this while looking at alternatives to hospital care such as crisis houses and therapeutic communities. What put me off studying the latter was that these services often seemed to be inspired by very distinct treatment ideologies - that to me appeared potentially as restrictive as the medication driven hospital regimes they are trying to oppose. Adult foster care in contrast appears to have no treatment ideology other than the potential benefit to patients of being accepted into a "normal" household.

The fact that these schemes exist at all raises important questions about social care and the ways that those considered deviant could be helped.

What makes this topic particularly interesting for me is that adult foster care actually has a long history and in many ways represents a forgotten form of health care . Its heyday was in the mid to late 19th century when in various parts of Europe and America, less so in England, it represented a serious alternative to the, then growing, asylum provision. Its history actually extends back as far as the middle ages to the first documented examples of this form of care taking place in Gheel in Belgium. That this form of essentially pre-modern care exists in a world of mental health crisis teams, mental health intensive care units and assertive outreach seems to me a gift for any sociological study of mental health care.

I could go on at length - well I will do at some point, but anyway you get the idea. I could provide lots of references and make this much more academic, but really I just want to get the main idea across as simply as possible.

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