Temporary foster care

Key findings

Temporary foster care is the most commonly used category of foster care.

Temporary placements are less likely to break down than long term or permanent placements, probably because the period at risk is less.

About 80 per cent of admissions into temporary foster care are with parental agreement.

Many parents see temporary foster care as helpful; children and young people are unlikely to want to be in foster care although they will often accept it if their situation improves as a result.

Children in temporary foster care spend on average a year there.

Social work methods that may help prevent or shorten children’s periods in care are:

The effectiveness of therapeutic interventions alone is unclear in preventing or shortening the time spent in care.

Practice points

What we know from research

Temporary care may be used in an emergency and also while the needs of the child are being assessed. More children are placed in temporary foster care than any other type of foster care.

Why temporary foster care?

Temporary foster care is used for a number of different purposes, and different agencies use different terms to describe it. It can be used in an emergency, for assessment, when a young person is on remand, or as a temporary home when no one else can provide care. It may provide a chance to calm an inflamed situation, to support parents who are at the end of their tether or in a crisis and to enable a risky situation to be assessed and managed. It can also be used to facilitate panning for the future.

Shared care, which is a series of short break placements with the same foster carers, offers a series of short planned breaks often, but not only to, disabled children and their families. Some schemes support parents and teenagers. The overall aim is to keep the family together in the long term; foster carers sometimes care for the parent and child together and can offer support when the child returns home.

Placement stability

Temporary placements are less likely than permanent placements to break down, probably because the period at risk is less (56).

Parents’ views

About 80 per cent of admissions into temporary foster care are made with the parents’ agreement, when children and young people are 'accommodated’ on a voluntary basis. Research shows that parents are frequently relieved (8), (57), (58) and some parents feel resentful if social workers refuse their request to support them in this way (57).

A study of short break foster care found that parents valued it highly. This scheme also provided good general social work support, which may have been another reason for user satisfaction (59). Parents do not necessarily see temporary care as a threat to the fundamental bonds of their family, unless court proceedings for a care order are initiated (58).

Not surprisingly parents feel much more negative when their children are compulsorily admitted to care, although this may change in time (57).

Children’s views

Children are less likely than their parents to favour temporary foster care. Research findings tell us that they may accept the situation and this will depend on their circumstances and whether their situation improves (59). They do not like sudden moves into care and moving placement without preparation. Like their parents they do not necessarily fear for the fundamental bonds of their family (58).

Ensuring 'temporary' foster care remains temporary

Research shows that parents may welcome temporary care and children can accept it. However, it has recently been found that children placed in so called 'temporary’ or 'short term’ foster care spent on average a year there (17).

This may be for a number of reasons. Usually the delay is caused by the need to resolve court proceedings or to decide if a permanent placement, rather than reunification, best meets the child’s needs. Sometimes the social worker is waiting to match the child to a more suitable placement.

There are now national standards and forthcoming guidance that insists that permanent plans for all children are made after four months, at the time of their second Looked After Child (LAC) review.

How to prevent children becoming 'accommodated’ and facilitating reunification

Studies (60-62) suggest that the features likely to create successful reunification are:

Research has not shown clear results about the effectiveness of offering therapeutic intervention to prevent or to shorten the time children spend in care. One study examined whether prevention and reunification could be achieved by offering intensive work based on learning, crisis and/or family therapy theories (63). The inconclusive results may also be because an appropriate intervention was not used, the intervention was not given effectively, or that the nature of the family problems were not solvable in the given time e.g. problems of substance misuse (64), (65).