Project: Understanding and working with birth parents of children in long-term foster care

Funder: ESRC

Dates: 2007- 2008

Research Team: Professor Gillian Schofield

This project was funded by the ESRC and was an investigation of a group of parents who are often neglected – both in practice and in research.  Although the role of birth parents is recognised to be a key issue for foster children, the experience of birth parents has received less attention from researchers than the experience of foster carers and foster children. This is true not only in the UK but also in Scandinavia. This study was therefore developed in collaboration with parallel studies at the University of Bergen (Dr Toril Havik, Bente Moldestad and Dag ) and the University of Gothenburg (Dr Ingrid Hojer).

The UK sample, in three different agencies, was 33 birth parents of foster children who were under the age of 10 at placement and who had been in their planned long-term foster family for at least a year. The methodology combined qualitative interviews with birth parents, to discuss their experiences from the times of having difficulty in parenting their children, through the court process and then the years of being a parent through contact. Focus groups of children's social workers will be set up to discuss the challenges and benefits of working with birth parents of children in long-term foster care.

The interviews with parents provided powerful evidence of the challenging experience for parents of losing a child and having a child cared for by other (foster) parents under the management of social workers - but it also showed the extent to which where social work and foster care practice was good, parents were often able to support and contribute to their child's well being in foster care.

This international study complemented existing studies of long-term foster care at UEA and elsewhere by specifically investigating the experience of birth parents, with the aim of improving the quality of social work practice with parents, but also with children and foster families.

Schofield, G. and Ward, E. (2009) Parenting while apart: parents of children growing up in foster care Report

Schofield, G., Moldestad, B., Hojer, I, Ward, E., Skilbred, D., Young, J. and Havik.T. (2011)  Managing loss and a threatened identity: experiences of parents of children growing up in foster care, perspectives of social workers and implications for practice British Journal of Social Work 41 (1), pp. 74-92 Abstract

Schofield G and Ward E (2011) Understanding and Working with Parents of Children Growing up in Foster Care London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers