SCIE Knowledge review 05: Fostering success: An exploration of the research literature in foster care
By Kate Wilson, Ian Sinclair, Claire Taylor, Andrew Pithouse and Clive Sellick
Published: January 2004
Foster children have difficult early lives. Their needs are great, their educational performance can be poor, their childhoods in foster care and out of it are often unstable. In their adult lives they are at greater risk than others of a wide variety of difficulties. These 'facts' have led some to conclude that the state is not an adequate parent. This conclusion, however, ignores two possibilities. First, foster care may be better than the obvious alternative - that is, remaining at home. Second, the lives of fostered children can turn out well. Maybe this could become true for more of them.
This review helps to identify what impact foster care has for fostered children and young people with a view to influencing policy and practice.
This review will be of interest to local policy makers and practitioners, and to people planning, commissioning or doing research in this field.
Messages from the knowledge review
- For many children and young people in long-term foster care, being fostered may be better than the obvious alternative, that is, remaining at home.
- Importantly, despite initial difficulties on leaving care, the majority of fostered children go on to lead happy, healthy, productive lives as adults.
- Most foster children are generally positive about the care they receive.
- Foster children do not all say that they want the same things, but they have common needs: a normal family life, encouragement, respect, basic information about what they are entitled to, a good education and choice about contact with their own families.
- Most also want a say about their time in care and what they want from it.
- How satisfied fostered children and young people are depends on:
- the care they receive from their foster families
- their relationship with their own birth families
- the balance of their relationships with their foster families and their own families
- the reasons for their being in care
- having lives in care that are predictable and stable
- being able to lead an ordinary life.
- The key to successful foster care lies in recruiting, training and supporting good foster carers.
- Word-of-mouth, the involvement of foster carers in recruitment campaigns, small cash incentives and focusing on particular groups (for example, black and minority ethnic women) work best in the recruitment of foster carers.
- Looking at children's views and other research about the results of fostering, the review recommends that local authorities should:
- have a clear system for getting feedback from children, birth families, foster carers and social workers about the service they provide, and act on it
- provide enough choice of placements and a varied and flexible service, such as helping young people to stay with their carers beyond the age of 18 and/or developing foster care services that support the whole family
- develop plans with the children that recognise that their own birth families play a key role in children's lives
- deal properly with children's needs in foster care, paying close attention to the areas of education, behaviour and the child's understanding of her/his history.
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- Fostering success: An exploration of the research literature in foster care
- Fostering success: An exploration of the research literature in foster care: Summary
- Fostering success: An exploration of the research literature in foster care: Welsh summary