How does foster care work? Improving outcomes and wellbeing through support and training in parenting.

Rees Centre Public Seminar 1

The first Rees Centre public seminar was held on 21st October, 2012. The two speakers were: Professor Stephen Scott, of Kings College, London, and Professor Kathy Sylva, of the Department of Education, University of Oxford. Sara Worth of the Fostering Services in Bath and NE Somerset was the respondent. We summarise the talks given below, and at the end of the blog you will find some of the questions raised in the discussion at the seminar.

Professor Stephen Scott
Good parenting promotes secure attachment, so how can we support foster carers’ skills to improve children’s attachment? Stephen Scott and his colleagues have recently updated their Fostering Changes programme for foster carers to include more information on attachment. This followed on from research by Stephen which indicated that foster children with insecure attachments to their biological parents were capable of forming secure attachments to foster carers.

Fostering Changes is a group-based programme which runs for 10-12 weeks. A controlled trial with foster carers showed a significant reduction in carer-reported behavioural problems for children (average age 8) whose carers had attended the programme.
A carer questionnaire on children’s attachment also showed a significantly greater increase in attachment security when compared with a group of carers who had not attended the programme.

Sara Worth, who manages the fostering service in Bath and NE Somerset, responding, told the seminar that they have run three Fostering Changes courses and received very positive feedback, including:
“The course helped me to feel supported as a carer”
“I feel reassured, more calm and patient, ready to face whatever comes”
“I feel this course has helped me and the children in our day-to-day living”.

Professor Kathy Sylva
Kathy Sylva outlined another parenting programme which she devised together with Stephen Scott. She was keen to know whether this programme could be as useable, friendly and effective with foster carers as it was with parents.

The SPOKES (Supporting Parents On Kids’ Education) programme involves training and weekly supervision, in this case with parents of disadvantaged children, and the focus is not on improving children’s behaviour, but rather on improving their reading and language.
The evidence on learning at home for parents whose children are struggling readers is very patchy, and little is known about working with parents of disadvantaged children.

In the SPOKES training sessions, parents work through examples, using video or role play, and find out the principles of what works for reading at home (by emre at dh). Drawing on two successful reading programmes – Pause, Prompt, Praise and Reading Recovery – the focus throughout the SPOKES programme is on praise, making time for your child and improving the relationship with your child. It is suitable for children aged 5-7 years old.

A lively audience discussion followed; here are some of the questions that arose and we welcome your comments on these.

• Stephen’s research has shown that the Fostering Changes programme can help children to make secure attachments with their foster carers. What might be the barriers to this happening?

• Kathy’s work on the SPOKES programme shows the positive effect that parents can have on children’s literacy. How might this programme work with foster carers?

• Our speakers have outlined two parenting programmes that might help foster carers to improve children’s outcomes. What does research tell us are the essential qualities of a foster carer and how can parenting programmes match these with practices that can be adapted to suit the needs of individual children?


The Rees Centre welcomes your comments on this blog post. We reserve the right to moderate any comments. Please note that any replies to your comments will come from the Rees Centre rather than the author of the post.

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