Jolanta Pivorienė Jolita Dudaitė Odeta Merfeldaitė


Child care ensures that a child has a safe, age-appropriate living environment in which to grow and develop. In addition to day-to-day care, caregivers have to help the child to survive the trauma that they have suffered, restore and maintain the child’s relationship with their parents and other relatives, prepare the child for their return to their family or for the transition to another foster or adoptive family, and prepare them for an independent life. The proper organisation of care services is the responsibility of the State and local authorities, and the caregivers of the child are responsible for the quality of this service. Therefore, the State seeks to provide the necessary assistance to the persons providing the child care services to enable them to ensure safe and harmonious living and development conditions, as well as provide parents and legal guardians with the support necessary for the proper upbringing of the child. However, the Lithuanian child care and adoption system faces challenges in implementing these provisions. According to the National Audit, not all foster care centres carry out annual surveys to determine the need for services for foster carers, and some do not provide services to foster carers when there is a need. Mostly, there is a lack of services provided by psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Foster care centres should organise mutual support groups for foster carers at least once every 2 months, but audit data shows that this is not the case in reality. Half of the foster and adoptive parents interviewed know how many and what types of services they are entitled to and what services they can receive, while others indicate that they do not know because information about all of the services to which they are entitled is not clearly provided by care centres. The ombudsman also highlights the lack of self-help groups for caregivers who are confronted with various behavioural problems with their child. The gap between the provisions enshrined in legal documents and their implementation in everyday practice poses a relevant scientific problem. Problematic behaviour is a common issue in care, and the ability to recognise and understand it is essential for the provision of effective help for children. Investing in support and training for caregivers and staff can have a positive impact on children’s well-being, on the quality of caregivers’ work, and on their decision to continue fostering. This study aimed to explore what types of support caregivers most urgently need in identifying and correcting the internalised and externalised behavioural problems of children in care. This need was explored through the abilities of care centre staff and caregivers to recognise and correct the internalised and externalised problematic behaviours of children in care (control) and the requirements to do so (norms). The object of the study is the need for help in recognising and correcting the internalised and externalised problematic behaviour of children in care. The research question is formulated as follows: What types of help are most urgently needed in recognising and correcting the internalised and externalised problematic behaviour of children in care? This study was commissioned by the Adolescent Support Initiative and is part of the Erasmus+ project Empowering Foster Parents (No.2021-1-LT01-KA220-ADU-000028356). The methodology of the study was developed and a comparative analysis of the data was carried out across three countries by Vrije Universiteit Brussel. This article discusses only the national data of Lithuania. In Lithuania, questionnaires developed by the study coordinator were used to investigate the abilities of care centre staff and caregivers to recognise and correct internalised and externalised behaviour (control) and the pressure experienced by care centre staff and caregivers to identify and correct problematic behaviour in children in care (norms). Internalised problematic behaviour is understood as behaviour directed towards the self, such as anxiety, depression or feelings of worthlessness; externalised problematic behaviour is directed towards the environment, and manifests in forms such as disobedience, shouting at others or hitting them. Two methods were used to ensure the validity of the questionnaires: double translation and member check, or respondent validation. Non-probability sampling was used. The questionnaires were distributed through care centres; the staff working in the care centres filled in the questionnaires themselves and sent them to the caregivers they coordinated with. The study samples involved 54 care centre staff and 67 caregivers. The study shows that caregivers feel more able than care centre staff to identify the internalised and externalised problematic behaviour of children in care, which naturally implies that care centre staff find it more difficult than caregivers to make decisions about helping children with internalised and externalised problematic behaviour. When analysing the ability of care centre staff and caregivers to recognise and correct children’s problematic behaviour, it was found that care centre staff feel more able to help children than caregivers. These findings are in line with other research in the country which has revealed that there is a lack of information on the services provided by foster care centres, and a lack of a common platform on which all of the relevant information on all of the services available to families can be found. Such a platform could be used both by the staff of the care centres when deciding on support for children and caregivers and by the caregivers themselves. The survey shows that caregivers both decide on and feel they can find the extra help they need for the children in their care when they exhibit problematic behaviour. However, when it comes to self-help, it was observed that they find it difficult to decide on additional help for themselves, even if they know they can access it. This is supported by another study, which found that foster and adoptive parents lack support and help when faced with parenting difficulties, psychological problems and social exclusion Based on the findings of the study, it is recommended to strengthen the following capacities of care centre staff: recognising children’s internalised problematic behaviour; helping caregivers to deal with the internalised and externalised behaviour of the children in their care; and deciding on additional support for children and caregivers in cases of internalised problematic behaviour. Caregivers are most in need of help in deciding on additional support for themselves when children in their care exhibit internalised and/or externalised problematic behaviour.