This thesis explores characteristics of foster carers and children/young persons placed with them, carer training needs, response to training and contributes to a discussion on ways to improve outcomes for children looked after. There are two types of local authority approved foster carers who participated in the studies reported. Traditional foster carers are unrelated and usually strangers to the children they foster and are recruited specifically for a fostering role. Kinship foster carers are known to the children they care for and are identified and approved as part of the process of a child entering the care system.
The thesis reports on three investigations, study one and two were undertaken with the same local authority, study three was undertaken with a different local authority. Both local authorities were in Wales Studies one and three are reported in single chapters, Chapter 4 and Chapter 7. Study two is reported in two chapters, Chapter 3 and 4.
In study one, a survey of a local authority training programme for foster and kinship foster carers identified that the majority of carers reported clinical levels of child behavioural problems, however carers were not routinely offered the parent management training recommended for problem behaviours.
These findings led to the Authority offering carers an Incredible Years© behavioural parenting intervention, reported in study two. Eleven foster and eleven kinship foster carers were recruited. A comparison of characteristics at baseline found that foster carers reported higher levels of stress t(36)=2.49 p<.05 and more behavioural problems t(18)=3.22 p<.001 than kinship foster carers, with 70% of foster and 30% of kinship foster carers reporting abnormal levels of child behavioural difficulties. Both types of carers reported similar attachment relationships with the children they cared for.
Eight foster carers and six kinship foster carers completed the IY programme. Separate groups were run for foster and kinship foster carers and follow-up measures were collected six months post-baseline. Children placed with kinship foster carers had been in care for a shorter period (1 year) than those in foster care (5.5 years) and foster carers had been approved as carers for longer (12 years) than kinship foster carers (0.8 years). There was a significant improvement in carer reported child behaviour for the whole sample on the total score from the Child Behaviour Check List t(13)=2.67, p<.05; d=.41. Whole sample results for carer stress also showed a significant improvement on the Parenting Stress Index (Short-Form) t(13)=3.47 p<.01; d=.45. There was no significant whole sample change in the Quality of Attachment Relationships Questionnaire. Between group comparisons showed that foster carers reported a significant improvement in child internalising behaviour t(8)=2.74 p<.05, improvements in levels of stress t(8)3.49, p<.01 and improvements in carer-child attachment relationships t(8)=2.35, p<.05. There were no significant improvements reported by kinship foster carers on any measures. There was a high level of satisfaction with the programme with 98.5% of kinship and foster carers responses rating the programme as helpful or very helpful.
High levels of within group variation across the measures indicated differences in the needs of individual carers. In order to better support foster and kinship foster carers through an individualised intervention tailored to their specific needs, five supervising social workers were recruited and trained to deliver a one to one behavioural intervention, the Enhancing Parenting Skills programme (EPaS) and is reported as study three. At follow up two social workers had left the service and the remaining three social workers had failed to recruit participants. A semi-structured interview with the three social workers indicated a lack of confidence in their ability to deliver the intervention. Lack of familiarity with the structured assessment measures used to build the individual case study, combined with unfamiliarity with the behavioural knowledge required to develop a case analysis and intervention, and a perception of anticipated difficulties in establishing a collaborative working relationship with carers were seen as barriers to implementing the programme. Organisational barriers included work pressures and role conflicts between the role of supporting carers and a safeguarding supervisory role. Despite these challenges, social workers recognised the benefits of the EPaS programme for carers and found the training useful. They suggested that an alternative team would be more suited to deliver the programme and indicated the need for ongoing support after training and during implementation.
The thesis concludes with a discussion on the implications of the findings and recommendations for future research, policy and practice in the field.