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Foster care: research compares residential homes

Foster care and stability findings

Foster care and report into stability

The prestigious Rees Centre based at Oxford University has produced a report which evaluates the results of taking children out of residential care and putting them into foster care placements.

Because a direct comparison has been made between two very different care settings, the results provide vital information about achieving placement stability. And there is nothing more important than providing stability: for outcomes to be positive for children in care, the security derived from being in a stable and consistent environment, cannot be underestimated. The governments foster care stocktake which provoked criticism from certain quarters, would have been more credible if it had accepted this premise, and based all its work on producing recommendations designed to promote stability.

The Rees Centre based its work on the ‘Step Down Programme’ which has been running since July 2014. This is a partnership between Birmingham City Council and Core assets which aims to move young people from residential home settings and place them into foster homes. The Programme is supported by a Social Impact Bond contract which is funded by ‘Bridges Ventures’, an investor whose goal is to make a real difference for children and young people.

The research involved conducting interviews with two hundred and thirteen youngsters, their foster carers, supervising social workers and mentors. What has emerged in the quantitative research findings, is that many of the young people moved into foster care experienced greater stability. They also showed a greater willingness to engage in a higher level of activities. 

Key findings in relation to foster care

There are some persuasive reasons for anticipating that the quality of a youngster’s life is likely to be significantly improved  as a result of successfully completing the ‘Step Down Programme’. This is measured against what is known about improved educational outcomes from foster care compared to residential care. The evaluation’s findings are mixed, but overall, both the increased stability identified combined with cost savings indicates the Programme is successful. During the first three and a half years, it is estimated that the cost savings amount to nearly two million pounds: the savings accruing throughout a fifty two week placement for each of the young people completing ‘Step down’ who do not then return to residential care, is likely to be more than £50k.

The comparative benefits of foster care: three key findings:

  • children and young people were found to be engaging in an increased level of activities as compared to when they were in residential care;
  • school attendance was generally higher;
  • significant cost savings.

Foster care and the link to emotional wellbeing and resilience

Most encouragingly, the youngsters who were followed had a tendency to report experiencing an improvement in managing their anger. One young person, whilst in residential care, was quoted in the report as having feelings around “smashing everything up.” By contrast, once in the Programme, young people spoke more along the lines of feeling frustrated rather than destructive. In the report, both social workers and foster carers confirmed such behavioural changes. They also reported that young people appeared “calmer, happier, more relaxed, more confident, more optimistic about the future, and developing a sense of humour.” It was also noted that the general health of some of the young people in the Programme improved – leading to their emotional well being also improving. And this fed through into reports of a reduction in instances of self harm by some of the young people.

Factors making the foster care placements work

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the report established why placements were successful: they had been underpinned by prolonged and detailed planning. There was also; within the fostering process, an allowance for an introductory period – as well as time given for progress meetings. When deemed necessary, therapeutic support for foster carers was also arranged. Such careful planning resulted in children and young people feeling much more positive about meeting their foster carers. They felt reassured when a gradual and well-planned approach was adopted in relation to their moving into a foster care placement.

Fostering a proper introduction…

A ‘getting to know you’ period delivered real benefits. This contrasts with the experience the young people had of frequent and relatively unplanned placement moves. It is clear that placements that are not rushed start off on a much better basis. Foster carers and youngsters stated in the report that where they had been able to build their relationship by phoning and texting – and have prior meetings to arrange the move into placement – they felt much better prepared. What was especially significant, is this made the children and young people feel less anxious – as well as promoting feelings of being wanted by the foster carer(s). Foster carers themselves reported that such preparation made them more confident in relation to any behaviour management strategies needed before the placement started. The impact of small gestures, such as foster carers giving welcome cards or small gifts appropriate to the interests of a young person had a positive effect.

The proper planning of foster care placements is pivotal to success

Emergency placements are by definition rushed. Information about a child or young person may be incomplete. In far too many instances, the pressure is on just to get a child or young person accommodated. The report highlights just how important it is that foster carers have the most complete and reliable information about a child as soon a possible. This is identified as being critical to the success of a foster care placement. What is worrying is that whilst foster carers professed understanding of the need for confidentiality, they felt crucial information relating to a child’s past could be deliberately or accidentally omitted. 

Fostering a better record of successful placements

If emergency placements are conducted in such a way that there is a high risk of instability from he outset, the system needs a radical adjustment. And if foster carers suspect they have not been given complete information about a child, and that child is rushed into placement – with no idea about the foster carers or the environment – it’s not surprising placements can quickly break down? What must be guarded against as the problems have been recognised is a system that militates against proper planning. Otherwise, one can credibly ask what is the point? And especially when children affected by repeated placement breakdowns, are known to experience severe problems as a consequence. 

Rainbow are recruiting for new foster carers in London, Birmingham and Manchester

Rainbow has been established for over twenty years and are a leading foster care agency. We are looking for people interested in foster care as a career. Especially people willing to train to become therapeutic foster carers. This is a special type of foster care which addresses the needs

of increasing numbers of children who come into foster care having been abused or neglected. Such experiences have led to them being traumatised. This can severely compromise their ability to form long-lasting relationships with people.

When children have such complex needs, it is important to help them to move on from such negative experiences. Doing this can be incredibly rewarding. If you feel you have the potential to  do this kind of fostering, there is more information available at

Call 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845 to talk to one of the members of our recruitment team. If preferred, you can also leave your contact details for us to call you.

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