Meeting foster children's emotional and behavioural needs
- Children who are looked after have more emotional and mental health needs, as well as more behavioural difficulties than most children. Their difficulties usually start before they become looked after.
- Research on children who have experienced trauma, in early life, including disrupted attachments, suggests that this may cause neurological damage.
- Research has shown that foster care which offers stability, security and a good relationship can help young people to develop and mature emotionally.
- Children who return home after long periods in care are more likely to show disruptive and offending behaviour compared to those who remain in care.
- This foster parent-child relationship needs time to develop on both sides (17), (27), (28). Children who return home after long periods in care are more likely to show disruptive and offending behaviour compared to those who remain in care (29). The disruption of their relationship with the foster carer may be a contributory factor.
- Support from social services after a child has returned home can be patchy. A quarter of the children in one study (3) had no contact with a social worker following their return. Those who did said support generally focused on practical issues and 'tailed off’ quite quickly.
- Remember that children who have been fostered for a long time have often built up a positive relationship with their carers. While some placement moves cannot be avoided, think carefully about the possible emotional damage to the child that could result from the relationship being disrupted.
- If a child returns home, ask yourself what support they and their family will need and for how long. Research shows that effective support for the family following return home is rare.
- Remember that the problems behind a child’s difficulties almost always begin before the child becomes looked after. So when you are considering returning children home ask yourself whether the risk factors that caused the child to become looked after have improved. Discuss this with the professional network. Think about the family’s willingness and ability to work towards reunification, or to accept permanent alternative care.
- Remember that the parent/s and other adults in the family must be able to recognise and accept the need for change and be willing and able to work towards achieving and maintaining it. If they cannot they will need to accept that their child is cared for by others.
These difficulties can affect children’s behaviour in placement and cause many problems for the child, foster carer, social worker and often later society in general. The problems can continue into adulthood and can have a negative effect on the person’s education and work, personal and social life. (32-39)
There is considerable research on children who have experienced trauma, including disrupted attachments, in early life, demonstrating the neurological damage that this can cause. (40-43)
Research has shown that, in general, the features of foster care that enable young people to develop emotionally and to be able to control their anti-social behaviour can be summarised by having a carer to offer stability, security, and a good relationship. This relationship is usually with the foster carers and needs time to develop on both sides (16), (44), (45). Children who return home after long periods in care are more likely to show disruptive and offending behaviour compared to those who remained in care; the important factor here is that the relationship that they have built up with their carer is disrupted (46).
Support after the child has gone home can be patchy with a quarter of the children having no contact with a social worker following return and support generally focusing on practical issues and 'tailing off’ quite quickly.