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Providing a secure base for children in foster care

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1 Providing a secure base for children in foster care
Professor Gillian Schofield Co-Director of the Centre for Research on the Child and Family, School of Social Work and Psychosocial Sciences University of East Anglia, UK

2 Balance of concern and hope for foster children
Children are significantly harmed by abuse, neglect, separation and loss. Many children will suffer all their lives as a result. But many children will benefit from therapeutic caregiving experiences in foster care and go on to lead successful stable lives as adults, partners and parents Goal is to promote security and resilience

3 Attachment theory for practice-projects with BAAF
Schofield G and Beek M (2006) Attachment Handbook for Foster Care and Adoption London: BAAF Beek M and Schofield G (2006) Attachment for Foster Care and Adoption training programme and video/DVD London: BAAF Beek M and Schofield G (2006) Achieving Permanence in Foster Care- A good practice guide London: BAAF

4 What does attachment theory help us to understand about children in placement?
Abuse, neglect or rejection have implications for the child’s internal working model (beliefs and expectations of self and others). Separation and loss raise anxiety and intensify defensive strategies. Risk that children will recreate their previous experiences of caregiving in their new families.

5 Distrust of good care- is it a trick? (Patricia Crittenden 1995)
The child may so lack trust in caregivers that a new experience of good parenting by foster carers may not trigger the child’s mind to change their mental representations of ‘parents’. Instead the child’s mind may decide that this parenting is just trickery or deception. Or that the risk of mistakenly responding as though the carers were really kind, loving and to be trusted is too great to be tolerated. So children will take a long time to learn to trust.

6 Use of attachment theory and research in developing a foster parenting model
Key to promoting security and resilience is mind-mindedness - in carers and children Attachment focuses attention on the quality of the child’s experience in the relationship with the new caregiver as a potential and active source of therapeutic care.

7 The cycle of caregiving
Child’s needs/ behaviour Child thinking and feeling Effect on child’s development Carer thinking and feeling SENSITIVE PARENTING Using the framework of attachment theory and from the data gathered in our interviews with foster carers and children we have developed a circular model to represent the process through which the most sensitive and successful carers have been able to build a secure base from which their foster children can develop and grow. CLICK We can start at the top with the child and the child’s behaviours – behaviours of any kind – positive or negative, small or large. CLICK Whatever the behaviour might be, the sensitive carer will think and reflect on it and various feelings about and towards the child will develop as a result. CLICK These thoughts and feelings will, in turn , affect the ways in which the carer responds to the child. What we can see is that the state of mind, the ways in which the carer thinks and feels about the child fundamentally affects the small and large interactions that take place within the family. Over time, as the relationship between the carer and child develops, the carer begins to behave in similar ways to a committed parent. CLICK Through these behaviours, the sensitive carer will convey certain messages to the child. With consistency and over time, these messages will start to confer a developmental benefit to the child and to positively affect the child’s own thinking and feeling about him or herself and others. CLICK As this process occurs, so the child will gain a sense of a secure base that can be relied on for comfort and nurture but from which he or she can safely explore the world, safe in the knowledge that it will continue to be available for support and comfort. The child’s behaviour will change and develop accordingly. In the following slides, we will trace this circular process occurring within each of the 5 dimensions of parenting that we have outlined and I will provide a case example within each dimension, taken directly from our interview material but with identifying information concealed. CLICK Parenting behaviour

8 Parenting dimensions from attachment and foster care research that promote security (and resilience)
Being available – helping children to trust Responding sensitively – helping children to manage feelings and behaviour Accepting the child - building self esteem Co-operative caregiving – helping children to feel effective (and be co-operative) Promoting family membership – helping children to belong

9 Dimensions of parenting interact: secure base star

10 What is a secure base ? If the attachment figure is reliably available and responsive, the child will trust that help is there if needed, not feel anxious and be able to explore, play, think, learn and become confident and resilient. A secure base for exploration is needed throughout life – relevant for children, young people, adults, parents, carers, social workers.

11 Child needs/ behaviour
Being available Child needs/ behaviour Carer thinking/feeling Child thinking/feeling What does this child expect from adults? How can I show this child that I will not let him down? I matter, I am safe I can explore and return for help Other people can be trusted Helping children to trust Alert to child’s needs/signals Verbal and non-verbal messages of availability Parenting behaviour

12 Being available – helping children to trust : examples
Time the relationship dance at the pace of the child Provide predictable routines Make sure child feels special/cared for when unwell or troubled Help the child know that you are thinking of him or her when apart

13 When tiny babies have switched off
When Jennie came to me at 12 weeks old, she was completely unresponsive, not waking for feeds, not responding to me, not showing any emotion. She had just switched off. I had to stay close to her and respond to even the slightest sound or facial movement and keep talking to her and touching her. It took time to replace those first weeks, but gradually she started to show different feelings and become more responsive.

14 Having the patience to let the child approach
Sam (5) found it impossible to trust me and watched my face warily all the time. I found that if I sat with a drink for him on the settee with children’s television on, he would circle the house for a long time dragging his favourite blanket and eventually end up sitting on my lap wrapped in the blanket, drinking his drink. I needed just to be there and he needed to have the confidence that I would wait for him to come to me.

15 When children are anxious and away from their secure base
When Aiden (4) had contact with his father he was always very anxious about what might happen and whether he would come back to me and I would be here for him. On one occasion I gave him a small cushion to take with him so that he had something to hold onto, but also so that he would know he would be coming home.

16 Responding sensitively
Child needs/ behaviour Child thinking /feeling Carer thinking/feeling My feelings make sense -and can be managed Other people have feelings and thoughts What might this child be thinking and feeling? How does this child make me feel? Helping children to manage feelings and behaviour Tuning in to the child. Helping child to understand /express feelings appropriately Parenting behaviour

17 Helping children manage thoughts and feelings : examples
Tuning in – reading signals, anticipating distress, containing anxiety Naming thoughts and feelings– providing a ‘commentary’. Scaffolding experience- giving a predictable shape to events e.g. feeds, nappy change, school Modelling expression and management of carers’ own thoughts and feelings Promoting empathy – how do you/how might other people think and feel?

18 Promoting mind-mindedness, perspective taking and empathy
I think Jenna (9) spent so long in self defence and looking after herself that she never learned to look at things from any one else’s point of view. She missed that out when she was little. And even things like stories.. When you say, what do you think is going to happen next? or why is that person thinking that? she hasn’t got a clue, she doesn’t follow the motives of what people are doing, or how they are feeling. So we do a lot of story reading together and I talk it through.

19 Using an experiences book : making it safe to think and remember
Paula (8) couldn’t remember or didn’t want to remember what happened this morning or yesterday or last week and couldn’t anticipate ‘next week’. So we started to do an Experiences Book together - each day writing down what had happened and her feelings about it. This helped her to reflect on the shape of each day and the immediate past and build her capacity to remember.

20 Child needs/ behaviour
Accepting the child Child needs/ behaviour Carer thinking/feeling Child thinking/feeling I need to value and accept myself. I can value and accept this child. Building self-esteem I am accepted and valued for who I am Helping child to fulfil potential, feel good about himself- and accept setbacks Parenting behaviour

21 Accepting the child- building self-esteem: examples
Promote the idea in the foster family- ‘Nobody’s good at everything but everybody’s good at something.’ Find activities to do and to share-orchestrate achievements, but allow failures and setbacks to happen and be managed. Model and teach the child to accept and celebrate difference – ethnicity, personality, talents.

22 Accepting for better or worse
Just look at her. She’s got such a twinkle. She’s an absolute rogue. And you would never want that squashed. It’s lovely. It’s just got to be channelled the right way.

23 Children often blame themselves
Salina (4), had repeatedly been disappointed by her mother failing to come to visit her at her foster home. Shortly after such a disappointment, her foster mother overheard Salina saying to herself, ‘If I good girl, Mummy come’. She believed she was not good enough to be loved. (Social worker)

24 Promoting positives - showing pride
Rob (11) loves his fish pond. Now he’s in charge of his own and he’s totally reliable in that department. We encourage him all we can. We say ‘Rob’s the top pond man’. He gave his talk at school on goldfish and got top marks.

25 Helping children to be accepted by others - disabled children
For Ben (10) to be accepted some of his behaviour had to be modified and he will get the benefits of that. We go to a nice hotel and he’ll walk into the dining room on his walker and everyone thinks he’s so wonderful and it’s so great for him. They say ‘Ben, you’re so clever, you’re marvellous, you’re such a beautiful boy’. I think, that’s part of what’s building him up, not me, but the response of all these other people. And he’d never have got that, not how he was before.

26 Co-operative caregiving
Child needs/ behaviour Child thinking /feeling Carer thinking/feeling The child needs to feel effective and competent How can we work together? I can make things happen within safe limits I can compromise and co-operate Helping children to feel effective Promoting autonomy and choice Co-operating/ negotiating within firm boundaries Parenting behaviour

27 Co-operative caregiving- helping children to feel effective: examples
Offer choices Help children follow through/achieve results-both on their own and with help e.g. plan a trip, take photos and see them developed and framed. Involve child in family tasks that all can see the benefit of. Model co-operative behaviour with other family members as well as engaging with the child.

28 The therapeutic effect of supporting a child to take the lead
George (3) would only relax in the garden, so although it was winter we wrapped up warm and everyday we spent time outside. He would potter about, looking at stuff and I would follow him sometimes and talk occasionally and he would stop and he’d look at an insect, or whatever it was he’d found. I pretty much let George lead, but sometimes I’d draw his attention to things. Yes, he pulled out all the plants and I just decided that I wasn’t going to have a garden that year and I just thought – yeah, I can have a garden next year.

29 Promoting co-operation- avoiding a battle
We try, actually, never to tell Salim (7) to do anything. It’s a matter of phrasing it differently, so that you are not triggering his feelings of threat. So, instead of saying, ‘Please wash your hands before you have a sandwich’ we might just say ‘Would you like to come and have a sandwich after you’ve washed your hands?’ or ‘We’ll have a nice long story time if you brush your teeth quickly’.

30 Promoting family membership
Child needs/ behaviour Carer thinking/feeling Child thinking/feeling This child is part of my family as well as part of his/her birth family I can belong comfortably to both of my families Helping children to belong FAMILY MEMBERSHIP A foster child has no legal or biological connection to a foster family but an important dimension of sensitive care is the capacity of the carer to include the foster child, socially and personally as a full family member. CLICK The carer’s response to the child… CLICK Is one that consistently thinks about the child as a full member of the family, both within the household and in presentation to the outside world. It is important to note that this does not imply the exclusion of the birth family – sensitive carers are also able to promote the child’s connection to the birth family – to whatever extent the child wants and feels comfortable with. CLICK From this viewpoint, the carer will include the child fully in family relationships, rituals, culture, happy and sad family events. They will plan for a future that includes the child and make this explicit. They will ensure that their family boundary is secure but allow the child to see that it may expand and contract to include others as needs arise. CLICK For the child, this conveys a message of belonging to a family which is of fundamental significance in a family based society. It provides the child with a set of norms and values – which later they may choose to accept or reject – just as any developing adolescent may do. It gives the child an alternative model of family life with which he or she can identify and thus reduces the fear of identifying with the negative aspects of the birth family. CLICK From this, the child gains a growing sense of belonging and affirmation of the foster family as a secure base, now and into the future. FOR EXAMPLE Laura is a 14 year old girl who, with her sister, has lived with her foster carers for 8 years. She has frequent contact with her birth mother but also a strong sense of membership in her foster family. Her foster mother speaks of Laura’s pleasure in looking at family photographs and videos and she often initiates about past family events and occasions. When asked by the researcher to think of a time when she felt close to her foster mother, Laura describes sitting round the table and talking together after a big family meal. Over the past 4 years, Laura has grown into a confident, sociable and able young woman. She has good friends, is successful at school and plans to become a lawyer. There is an annual gathering of the large extended foster family which Laura looks forward to. It was on the return journey from such an occasion that Laura, from the back of the car, made the following statement, which conveys, in simple words her strong sense of comfort, ease and security in her foster family: CLICK I like being in foster care. You know where you are. Verbal and non-verbal messages of inclusion in both families Parenting behaviour

31 Promoting family membership-helping children to belong: examples
Ensure the child understands how this family does things; include the child in foster family life/photos Have special places for the child in the family home - for their clothes, at table, in the garden Enable the child to talk about and value their birth family identity Manage contact in ways that promote the child’s well-being and comfortable sense of belonging in both families.

32 Belonging to a real family: Can you describe your relationship with your foster mother?
Mother and son. She looked at me as her son and I looked at her as my mum sort of thing. Even though when you’re 18 you officially leave care but we kept in touch. We go round there for dinner, she comes round here. She classes my children as her grandchildren. (Christopher age 29 placed at 5)

33 Part and parcel of our family
We always say – from the moment you walk through the door, you are part of us. No matter how long you’re staying or how many other families you relate to, you are part and parcel of our family, the same as everyone else who lives here. We say it and we show it to them as well.

34 Promoting security and resilience in foster care
Foster families can provide a secure base that promotes security and resilience. Foster families can offer family membership AND enable children to manage being a member of more than one family. All family members need support e.g. the child, the carers, the carers’ birth children, the birth family. All agencies (especially including health and education) need to work together. Social workers need a secure base for this work.

35 Final thoughts from George’s foster mother
I think if you can just catch children in time, they really can start to heal and recover well enough to go on and just enjoy their childhoods and become reasonably adjusted adults - and that’s a great result, really.

36 Final thoughts from a foster child
I like being in foster care. You know where you are. (Laura, aged 14)

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