We know that foster carers are key to supporting the emotional wellbeing of children in care; but not enough is known about what kind of training or programmes best support carers to achieve this task. This study, which is run by University College London (UCL), in collaboration with a number of other universities and local authority partners, focuses on investigating the effectiveness of one promising form of support for foster carers: the Reflective Fostering Programme.
The Reflective Fostering Programme
The Reflective Fostering Programme has been developed by specialists at the Anna Freud Centre and aims to help foster carers to provide the best possible care for the children they look after.
The Reflective Fostering Programme was developed for foster carers and kinship carers of children between 4-13. It aims to help carers build strong, supportive relationships with the children in their care. The Programme is offered to groups of 6-10 carers and involves 10 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 stance enables carers to step back from situations and take a different perspective. Studies have suggested that when carers are able to do this then they can build stronger relationships with the children they care for, with positive impacts on the well-being of these children (and their carers!).
Previous research has indicated that the Programme may help carers to feel less stressed and better able to support the children in their care, with promising signs that children's well-being is also improved. However, those 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 on its own.
The current study
The aim of the current study is to find out whether offering foster carers and kinship carers the Reflective Fostering Programme, alongside usual support they already receive, helps to improve the emotional well-being of foster carers and their looked after children aged 4-13. We also want to know whether the Programme reduces carer stress and burnout and has an impact on placement stability.
The study will compare two randomly selected groups of foster carers:
- one group will continue to receive the usual support offered by their Local Authority;
- the other will be offered the same support, plus the Reflective Fostering Programme.
Foster carers that take part in the study will be asked to complete a set of questionnaires at three points of the study: at the beginning of the study, at 4 months, and finally at 12 months after the beginning of the study.
By having two comparison groups, with foster carers randomly selected to either attend the Reflective Fostering Programme or to continue with the usual support, 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 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.
Benefits of the study
We hope that the findings of this study will contribute to helping our understanding of what works to support foster carers and to improve the well-being of the children they care for. The study will provide important information to local authorities and commissioners to help ensure that carers are provided with the best, evidence-based support for their important role. We hope that the outcomes of this study will help guide future commissioning decisions for Local Authorities wishing to invest in evidence-based support for carers in their area.
Local authority partners currently working on the study
We're currently in the process of speaking to additional local authorities and independent fostering agencies about participating in the study. For more information, please contact the team at ReflectiveFostering@annafreud.org.
Who is funding the study
This study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research programme (NIHR126422 Midgley). The views expressed in this study are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.
For more information regarding the Reflective Fostering Study, please contact ReflectiveFostering@annafreud.org.