The Vital Few foster parents: Replication and extension

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The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule or the Vital Few, has been successfully used as a framework to identify the small proportion of highly productive foster parents who provide a disproportionate amount of care. This study replicated and extended this research using a nationally representative sample of foster families ( N=. 876) with a focus on willingness to foster, and actually fostering, children with special needs.

Using latent class analysis, two classes of foster parents were identified: one accounted for 19% of respondents and the other 81%. We refer to the former as the Vital Few and the latter as the Useful Many. Vital Few respondents fostered 74.2% of foster children - 11 times more than the Useful Many, although only fostering two times longer. They also had almost 1-1/2 times as many foster children in their homes at the time of the study. Notably, the Vital Few were willing to foster more types of children with special needs and a higher percentage had actually fostered children with each of the seven types of special needs studied. The classes were similar demographically except that Vital Few respondents were less likely to work outside the home and Vital Few mothers were slightly less educated as compared to Useful Many mothers.

This study further validates the utility of the Pareto Principle for understanding foster parents and, by extension, has important implications for the well-being and stability of foster children with special needs. Considerations for supporting the Vital Few, including education and training needs, are discussed.