What is the Reflective Fostering Programme?

The Reflective Fostering Programme has been developed by specialists at the Anna Freud Centre and aims to support foster carers to provide the best possible care for the children they look after. It aims to help carers look after themselves and therefore be able to build strong, supportive relationships with the children in their care.

           Positive feedback from participant

The programme is offered to groups of six to ten carers and involves ten three-hour sessions run by social care staff and experienced foster carers over a period of up to 12 weeks (with breaks for school holidays). These sessions can be delivered face to face but have also been adapted for online delivery.

The main aim of the programme is to promote ‘reflective fostering’; that is, helping foster carers to take a reflective stance towards both themselves and their foster child. This is sometimes called ‘mentalizing’.

           Positive feedback from participant               

This stance enables carers to step back from situations and take a unique perspective. Studies have suggested that when carers are able to do this, they can then build stronger relationships with the children they care for, with positive impacts on the wellbeing of these children (and their carers).

Discover more about the Reflective Fostering Programme by clicking on the tabs below

What do we know about the Reflective Fostering Programme so far?

So far, two evaluation studies of the Reflective Fostering Programme have been completed and results show that the programme had a positive impact on carer stress levels, carer-child relationships and the child’s emotional wellbeing.

We have also had some positive feedback from carers about how attending the programme has helped:

Positive participant feedback

Positive participant feedback

Positive participant feedback

However, these studies were on a small scale and did not compare the programme with the usual support foster carers might already receive. So, we do not yet know for sure that the Reflective Fostering Programme is more effective than the support carers are usually offered. That is why we are now doing a large-scale study, called the Reflective Fostering Study. You can read more about the study by clicking on the What is the Reflective Fostering Study tab below.

You can read more about our earlier evaluations, including plain English summaries of the key findings, on our Research and publications page.

What is the Reflective Fostering Study?

The main goal of the study is to learn if the Reflective Fostering Programme assists in improving the emotional wellbeing of children in care aged 4–13. We are also interested in learning whether the programme reduces stress and burnout among carers (both foster carers and connected carers) and if it has an impact on placement stability.

The study is comparing two randomly selected groups of foster carers, who will be followed up over a 12-month period:

  1. One group will continue to receive the usual support offered by their local authority or independent fostering agency.
  2. The other will be offered the same support, plus the Reflective Fostering Programme.

By having a comparison group we will be able to see more clearly what difference the programme makes. By collecting this data after 4 and 12 months, we can see whether effects of the programme (if there are any) are stable and longer-term. We will also be speaking in more detail to a small group of foster carers taking part in the study to understand the changes that may have taken place over this period and their experience of being in the study and the support they have received.

To read a detailed summary of the Reflective Fostering Study, please click here

What else do we hope to find out?

We also want to find out the extent to which the programme is helpful in the long-term, and whether the programme is cost-effective for local authorities and independent fostering agencies to invest in.

We hope that the findings of this study will contribute to helping our understanding of what works to support carers of all backgrounds and to improve the wellbeing of the children they care for. The study will provide essential information to local authorities and commissioners to help ensure that carers are provided with the best evidence-based support for their significant role. We also hope that the outcomes of this study will help guide future commissioning decisions for local authorities and independent fostering agencies wishing to invest in evidence-based support for carers in their area.

Positive feedback from Kent County Council

If you’d like to read more about the Reflective Fostering Study, you can read the study protocol.

It is important to us that carers are actively involved in the delivery of this study, so that we can make sure our research is relevant to the people it aims to support. If you are a carer and would like to know more about joining the study's advisory group, visit the Reflective Fostering Study advisory group dropdown further down the page.

Our commitment to inclusivity and diversity

We are committed to trying to make the study truly inclusive and representative of the diverse range of carers in the UK. To learn more about how we are working to achieve this, visit the InCLUDE project page.

Should I take part in the Reflective Fostering Study?

We want all foster carers and kinship carers to consider taking part in research because it makes a difference. By taking part, you can help us understand how we can better support all carers.

We invited carers involved in the Reflective Fostering Study to share their thoughts and reflections on research and being part of the Reflective Fostering Study.  

Why should I take part in the Reflective Fostering Study?

Sabbir, a foster carer shares his thoughts on the importance of getting involved with foster care research.

What is the Reflective Fostering Study?

The Reflective Fostering Study is an evaluation of a support programme for foster carers and kinship carers called Reflective Fostering. This video tells you more about the study,and what it is aiming to do.

What is it like attending the Reflective Fostering Programme?

Three foster carers – Marie, Melissa and Susan – talk about their experiences of attending the Reflective Fostering Programme. 



I'm interested, what do I do next?

After 2.5 years, recruitment for the Reflective Fostering Study will come to a close in September 2023, making this the last chance to take part in this important research. We need 200 more carers to take part to meet our target.

Every carer that takes part will be contributing to evidence that will ensure high-quality support for carers in the future. Don’t miss your opportunity to make a difference – get involved today!

I am a foster/kinship carer:

The study is open to registered foster or kinship carers in the UK who are currently caring for a child aged 4–13. It must be the plan that the child will remain with you for at least 4 months after you join the study.

The study welcomes mainstream and kinship carers from all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds to take part, to ensure the research benefits and understands the needs of all carers in the diverse fostering community.

If you would like to find out more about the research study please contact us using this form below or email:

I am a professional who works with foster and/or kinship carers:

If you would like to share this opportunity with your carers and networks, please get in touch for more information ( You can also download the recruitment poster to share with others, here. 

Who is funding this study?

This study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research programme (NIHR126422 Midgley). The views expressed in this website are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

National Institute for Health and Care Research logo


Reflective Fostering Study Advisory Group

The Reflective Fostering Study Advisory Group is a group of foster and kinship carers who advise on all aspects of the study and support recruitment of new participants. The purpose of the advisory group is to involve foster and kinship carers throughout the research process, to ensure that the research being undertaken is relevant to and informed by carers. The group was set up in January 2022 to increase open communication between foster carers and researchers

The advisory group has lots of different roles including:

  • giving feedback on the running of the study
  • sharing their experiences of taking part in the study to inform and encourage others to consider joining the study
  • coming up with new strategies for recruitment
  • highlighting any challenges or areas for improvement to researchers.

Group members

Advisory group members are foster carers and kinship carers who are also study participants.

What our group say:

Feedback from parent participantFeedback from participating parent

Key achievements

  • Redesigned study slides presented to potential participants at recruitment coffee mornings.
  • Sharing their experiences of the study and programme with local authorities or independent fostering agencies and at the study celebration event.
  • Raising the profile of the study and improving recruitment by speaking at recruitment coffee mornings and support groups.
  • Helping with the content of study webpages.
  • Taking part in video recordings to promote the study.
  • Developing strategies to encourage participants to complete study questionnaires.
  • Helping to plan and shape the agenda for the Reflective Fostering Impact Event.”

Contact us

Get in touch:

General enquiries:

InCLUDE project:

Relationship stories study:

Find us on Twitter: @fosteringstudy

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