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Effective parent-and-child fostering: An international literature review

The review revealed a number of key themes in the literature on the effectiveness of parent-and-child fostering. On the whole, these themes reflect the imbalance in the literature towards research on teenagers in care who become parents, as opposed to adult parents who live in foster homes with their children by arrangement, and towards mothers rather than fathers. It should be noted that here and throughout the text we refer to ‘parent-and-child placements’ for simplicity, though in England the correct terminology for an adult parent (who is not in care) living in a foster home with their child is a ‘parent-and-child arrangement’ (Adams and Dibben, 2011).

The literature showed that:

• Some of the characteristics of a ‘good’ placement identified by young parents, foster carers and social workers were those more generally associated with successful fostering of any young person – such as good ‘chemistry’ between foster carer and young person, clear ‘house rules’, engaging the young person in decisions about their placement and offering stable relationships with carers and social workers.
• Other factors contributing to positive placements were specific to parent-andchild provision, such as:
• The importance of engaging young parents in services provided for them.
• Consistent support from a trusted adult (usually the foster carer) exemplified through listening to the parent, making them feel able to confide in them and helping them to access services for parents.
• A clear agreement about the foster carer’s role in assessing the parent’s capabilities, and the extent to which they can be expected to act as ‘babysitters’ for the child.
• Being allowed to be a teenager, for example by the foster carer offering occasional babysitting in order to enable the young parent to go out with friends.
• Overall, reports on the outcomes of paren tand- child placements are very mixed. The likelihood that parents and children will be separated after the placement ends varied widely between studies, from 15% (Barth and Price, 1999) to 84% (Martin and Davies, 2007a, 2007b). This variation is likely to reflect the small numbers of placements in these studies, but might also be a result of differences in the placements, the characteristics of the population (e.g. parents with substance abuse), the purposes of the scheme (including assessment, support and therapeutic interventions) and the services offered to parents.
• Young parents living in foster homes often felt stigmatised. Because an element of assessment is often ‘built-in’ to these placements, they reported that more was expected of them than of other young parents, that they were under constant scrutiny and feared having their child taken away.
• Besides feeling ‘judged’ by social workers, parents in care also felt their relationship with social workers suffered due to intermittent contact with the social worker and a lack of support. In contrast, leaving care teams were generally viewed more positively as sources of support.
• Young parents leaving fostering often felt abandoned. Phone contact, access to counselling if needed, peer support groups, practical help with housing, education or employment were all important reasons to extend the contact with foster families. The inadequacy of available housing was identified as a particular barrier to success.
• Much of the research on the experiences of parents in foster placements has focused on young people who become pregnant in or shortly after leaving care; there is far less evidence on the views of adult parents who have entered foster homes with their children.
• The type of evidence that might help us illuminate the specific characteristics of the placement that make success more or less likely is very limited. One report (Barth, 1994) suggests that longer stays and attending substance abuse services (where this is an issue) are linked to greater success. Evidence on the links between relationships with carers and post-fostering outcomes relies on retrospective interviews or individual case studies.