Providing a secure base for children in foster care
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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. Balance of concern and hope for foster children.

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Providing a secure base for children in foster care

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


Balance of concern and hope for foster children

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


Attachment theory for practice projects with baaf

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


What does attachment theory help us to understand about children in placement

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.


Distrust of good care is it a trick patricia crittenden 1995

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.


Use of attachment theory and research in developing a foster parenting model

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.


The cycle of caregiving

The cycle of caregiving

Child’s needs/ behaviour

Child thinking and feeling

Effect on child’s development

Carer thinking and feeling

Parenting behaviour


Parenting dimensions from attachment and foster care research that promote security and resilience

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


Dimensions of parenting interact secure base star

Dimensions of parenting interact: secure base star


What is a secure base

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.


Being available

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


Being available helping children to trust examples

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


When tiny babies have switched off

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.


Having the patience to let the child approach

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.


When children are anxious and away from their secure base

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.


Responding sensitively

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


Helping children manage thoughts and feelings examples

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?


Promoting mind mindedness perspective taking and empathy

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.


Using an experiences book making it safe to think and remember

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.


Accepting the child

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


Accepting the child building self esteem examples

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.


Accepting for better or worse

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.


Children often blame themselves

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)


Promoting positives showing pride

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.


Helping children to be accepted by others disabled children

Helping children to be accepted by others - disabled children

  • For Ben (10) to be accepted someof 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.


Co operative caregiving

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


Co operative caregiving helping children to feel effective examples

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.


The therapeutic effect of supporting a child to take the lead

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.


Promoting co operation avoiding a battle

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’.


Promoting family membership

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

Verbal and non-verbal messages of inclusion in both families

Parenting behaviour


Promoting family membership helping children to belong examples

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.


Belonging to a real family can you describe your relationship with your foster mother

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)


Part and parcel of our family

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.


Promoting security and resilience in foster care

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.


Final thoughts from george s foster mother

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.


Final thoughts from a foster child

Final thoughts from a foster child

  • I like being in foster care. You know where you are. (Laura, aged 14)


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