The Family Boundary Ambiguity

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Family boundary ambiguity can be defined as confusion about who is in and who is out of the family system, because of the physical or psychological absence of one or more of the members (Boss & Greenburg, 1984). Boundary ambiguity has been studied in families in which the gain or loss of a family member is vague such as missing-in-action families (e.g., Boss 1977, 1980), divorced families (e.g., Peterson & Christensen, 2002; Rosenburg & Guttman, 2001), remarried families (e.g., Hobart, 1988; Stewart, 2005), and family caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients (e.g., Kaplan & Boss, 1999; Sherman & Boss, 2007). Few studies have examined boundary ambiguity in foster families, despite the frequent addition and loss of members within the household.
Foster care is usually intended to be a temporary placement; reunification with the family of origin is the case goal for over 50% of cases. For other children, foster care is intended to be a long-term care solution. Placement in a foster family can range from several months to several years (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012b). Foster families can be diverse and complex family systems; foster parents may also have biological, adopted, or step children who permanently live in the home at least part of the time (referred to hereafter as permanent children). In addition, foster carers may feel tension between being a parent to foster children, and conceptualizing foster care as a job, which can lead to more permeable
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