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Friendship for All: A ‘how to’ guide to help children in care have more opportunities to make friends

Children and young people in care have particular difficulties when making and securing friendships. They are more likely to experience frequent changes of school
and home, resulting in repeated disruptions to their friendships.

‘Maintaining friendships can be especially challenging for the 1 in 10 children in care living outside of their home local authority and more than 20 miles from their home communities’. From a distance: Ofsted (2014).

Not surprisingly, children in care tell us that friendship is vitally important to them, and in some cases the loss of friendship when moving to a new foster carer was the most profound loss of all. Young people reported that their friendships were rarely, if ever, discussed at their review meetings and they had little or no knowledge of their friendship history. A number of young people in care describe bullying as a common occurrence when they start a new school.

Children in care are significantly more likely to have special educational needs and mental health issues than their peers, with many required to attend special schools outside of the community they live in. Seeing friends outside of school can be particularly problematic for this group of children, who may not have autonomy, communication skills and the capacity to use social media. Children in care will need the encouragement and practical support of their foster carers and social workers if they are to have friends.

Foster carers wanting to support children’s friendships are sometimes prevented from making what they see as sensible, safe and timely decisions due to how delegated authority is interpreted. The permission of a child’s social worker to approve a school trip or ‘sleepover’ is a requirement in some local authorities and
agencies. In practice, securing this permission can be time consuming, often resulting in disappointment and missed friendship opportunities for children in care. While fully appreciating the need to keep children safe, foster carers would like to regularly review delegated authority.