Honors Study

The Impact of Parenting Quality on Outcomes in Therapeutic Foster Care

Kess L. Ballentine

Kess L. Ballentine
HPA Schreyer Scholar


Therapeutic Foster Care is the least restrictive residential care option for children with serious emotional and behavioral problems. As one of the primary treatment options for these children, it is important to determine the underlying mechanisms leading to proven improved outcomes due to Therapeutic Foster Care. Currently, the body of literature focuses on Social Learning Theory as the sole mechanism of the intervention. The purpose of the current work is to (1) investigate Attachment Theory and individual parenting factors as contributors to the improved outcomes resulting from Therapeutic Foster Care and (2) investigate these alternative mechanisms in a “real world” setting. We hypothesize that improved parenting quality will lead to improved behavioral and emotional functioning, reduced clinical problems, reduced problematic behavior in the community, and fewer legal problems. These changes in child functioning will be caused by the combined contributions of Social Learning Theory, Attachment Theory, and general parenting quality.

The work contributes two major findings to the literature. First, that in a “real world” setting, the effect of Attachment Theory may supersede Social Learning Theory as the mechanism leading to improved outcomes in Therapeutic Foster Children. We found that attachment constructs were related to improved behavioral and emotional functioning, reduced clinical problems, and reduced problems with the legal system, while constructs related to Social Learning Theory were not significant. Second, evidence shows that Treatment Parents in usual settings are receiving relatively low support from TFC agencies which may contribute to reduced improvements among the studied children.

This study suggests that parenting techniques encouraging the development of improved attachment behaviors for the child should be a focus of Therapeutic Foster Care programs, as Attachment Theory may be contributing to improved outcomes in children. Secondly, support of Treatment Parents must be improved to help children achieve their potential.