Vital Few and Useful Many Foster Families From Start to Finish

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The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80–20 rule, is the observation that 20% of input (e.g., workers) produce 80% of the results. Consistent with this principle, previous research has identified a group (20%) of families, the Vital Few, who provide a disproportionate amount of foster care and are more willing to foster children with special needs. The ability to predict the emergence of these families has important implications for recruitment, support and placement stability, as well as longevity of foster families. This study replicated and extended previous research by conducting a follow-up study of 107 families (90% response rate) 17 years after pre-service training. Consistent with previous research we found a small proportion (10%) of families who provide a disproportionate amount of care in terms of length of service and number of children fostered, approved to foster, adopted, and removed at families’ request. At the completion of pre-service training Vital Few families were more likely to have had previous foster parent experience and one or more children in their homes; mothers and fathers in the Vital Few were older, and fathers reported less education. Also, at pre-service training more Vital Few families said they would foster sibling groups (100 vs. 64%), but there were no other differences in terms of willingness to foster children with special needs. This study further validates the utility of the Pareto Principle for understanding foster families and, by extension, has important implications for the well-being and stability of foster children.