Promoting resilience in fostered children and young people

The importance of one interested adult - Foster carers and birth families

Another way of providing a more determined link between foster care and family is the development of specialist schemes that provide support to the birth family as well as to the fostered child or young person. Specialist schemes include:

Support foster care

Foster carers can work with birth parents in a variety of ways. Some of the most valued forms of cooperation are the provision of short breaks or respite care, most commonly, but not exclusively, for the parents of disabled children. More recently, the development of 'support care schemes', specifically Bradford Support Care and Birmingham's Neighbourhood Care Service, have been working with teenage service users and their families to provide flexible breaks and prevent long-term family breakdown. (7)

Support foster care schemes aim to provide:

Practice example

Bradford Support Care provides a part-time, flexible fostering service. This service aims to prevent long-term family breakdown by offering families support from part-time foster carers for planned, time-limited periods. (70)

Traditional foster placements risk removing young people from their families full time for lengthy periods. Generally, such placements were not flexible enough to meet the needs of families, especially lone mothers who were struggling to cope with their adolescent offspring in a situation where there were long-standing difficulties related to family conflict, school problems, behavioural difficulties, mental health problems and drug and alcohol issues. Support foster care aims to alleviate some of these difficulties. The DfES has funded an evaluation of support foster care. (71)

Treatment foster care

Some fostering schemes have been developed to provide specialised or therapeutic foster care. These schemes are marked by a number of features:

Treatment foster care is distinct from traditional foster care. Fostering has always been about providing nurturing, safe, and in some cases, custodial care for children who require placement outside of their family. Its primary aim has been the care and protection of children. Children are referred to treatment foster care programmes, on the other hand, in order to specifically address their serious levels of emotional, behavioural and medical problems.

It aims to reduce such problems through a coordinated programme of working, maintain young people in their placement and to support birth families to care for the young person. The DfES is currently funding an £11 million pilot programme of treatment foster care.

Link: DfES

Practice example

Treatment foster care aims to provide a locally based intervention for looked-after young people using innovative practice to reduce serious behavioural problems. The DfES programme will use a similar model to that developed in the US and will be targeted at young people who are:

  • 11-16 years old
  • displaying severe levels of challenging or anti-social behaviour, and/or
  • self-harming, and/or
  • involved in crime and who may be at risk of receiving a custodial sentence.

Treatment foster care is an intervention targeted at young people for whom more conventional approaches do not offer an effective solution. Such young people might in the past have been considered not fit for fostering. Existing treatment foster care programmes, such as that pioneered by the Maudsley Hospital in London, suggest positive outcomes in terms of placement stability and education in particular.(72)

There is a long tradition of local authority and voluntary organisation collaboration with respect to services for children and young people with complex needs. Voluntary organisations often pioneer innovative developments which local authorities commission for their most troubled and troublesome teenagers. (4) Specialist schemes which offer the intensive support of carers, training of carers, social workers and where appropriate birth-parents in the same social learning approach combined with close attention to schooling have been positively evaluated in comparison to residential care in relation to both young offenders and disturbed children. (8)