The Vital Few Foster Mothers

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Many foster parents serve only briefly, and foster and adopt few children. Anecdotal reports suggest that a small percentage of foster parents provide a disproportionate amount of care; however, we know virtually nothing about these parents. This study applied the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 rule or Vital Few, as a framework to conceptualize these foster parents. Using latent class analysis, two classes of mothers were identified: one accounted for 21% of mothers and the other 79%. We refer to the former as the Vital Few and the latter as the Useful Many. Vital Few mothers fostered 73% of foster children - 10 times more than Useful Many mothers although only fostering three times longer. They adopted twice as many foster children while experiencing half the yearly rate of placement disruptions. Vital Few mothers were less likely to work outside the home, had better parenting attitudes, more stable home environments, more time to foster, and more professional support for fostering, but less support from kin. Further, they were as competent as the Useful Many on numerous other psychosocial measures. Understanding characteristics of these resilient Vital Few can inform recruitment and retention efforts and offer realistic expectations of foster parents.