Promoting resilience in fostered children and young people
What is child-focused fostering?
Child-focused should mean that the child or young person makes, or is at the centre of, all decisions about their lives and is supported to enable them to determine their own goals within the context of a respectful and caring environment.
Child-focused fostering means that all decisions must be taken in the best interests of the child and that decisions should be taken in partnership with children and their families or advocates. It is the first principle of Choice Protects, a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) initiative that reviews fostering and placement services in England (13) and the National Assembly for Wales' (NAW) Children First initiative that focuses on investing in children's services in order to enable children to lead fuller, more successful lives as adults. (14)
In both England and Wales, the practice guidance for the 'Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families' should assist professionals in making child-focused decisions about young people (15).
In this guide we use the term 'child-focused'. However, we recognise that this term has been criticised for its 'paternalistic' overtones, because to some it suggests that adults must adopt a focus on the child, rather than acknowledging the legal rights of children and young people to actively participate in decisions that affect their lives. The Blueprint Project for a Child-Centred Public Care System, based at the Voice for the Child in Care and supported by the National Children's Bureau, explicitly uses 'child-centred' rather than 'child-focused' in order to reinforce the importance of involving children and young people in care in decisions both at individual and service delivery level.
Link: Blueprint Project
Children are popularly represented as passive, dependent, vulnerable and in need of protection or, alternatively, as anti-social, deviant, irresponsible and in need of firm social control. In other words, adults cast children in the role of either victim or villain. (16-18) What adults tend to think less about is how children and young people negotiate difficult circumstances and how they draw on their reserves of resilience to overcome life's adversities. (19-22)
A resilience-based approach shifts attention away from focusing on problems towards a focus on the developmental strengths of children and young people. We are all born resilient but find it easier to withstand adversity in the context of caring, consoling and enduring relationships. There are a number of features that are important to resilience, particularly feeling happy and supported at school, developing self-esteem and, as we grow up, self-efficacy or the feeling of having a sense of control over our lives. The fundamental building block of resilience is an attachment to a secure base. For children in the care system, a child-focused foster system will make every effort to nurture the development of secure relationships and identify a child's social support networks. (11) (23-28)