Project: Growing up in foster care

Funder: The Nuffield Foundation

Dates: Phase 1 1997 –1999, Phase 2 2001-2003, Phase 3  2005 -2007

Research Team: Professor Gillian Schofield and Mary Beek

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, this is a longitudinal prospective study of a cohort of children placed in foster families with a long-term foster care plan.

In Phase 1 (1997-1999) a sample of 53 children (age range 4-11) were identified and base line data was collected (through questionnaires and interviews) regarding the children, the foster and birth families and the social work practice. The children were almost all from backgrounds of abuse and neglect and presented a range of emotional, behavioural and educational difficulties.


Schofield G, Beek, M, Sargent K with Thoburn J (2000) Growing up in Foster Care London, BAAF

In Phase 2 (2001-2003) the sample were followed up and although the majority (73%) of placements were stable after 3 years, children's developmental progress and progress in terms of family relationships were very varied. Some children were doing well in stable placements, others were doing poorly in stable placements - and others were doing better after moving to new placements. Phase 2 was used to develop a) an attachment theory based understanding of children's different styles of coping and how this affected their progress b) an attachment theory based model of parenting using Mary Ainsworth's dimensions associated with secure attachment – availability, sensitivity, acceptance and co-operation – to which was added ‘family membership', which is at the heart of permanence c) an understanding of the role of the different contexts of the placement e.g. social work practice in relation to contact.


Beek M and Schofield G (2003) Tuning in to children: Providing a secure base for children with severe learning difficulties in long-term foster care Adoption and Fostering 28 (2) p. 8-19 Abstract

Neil, E, Beek, M and Schofield G (2003) Thinking about and managing contact in permanent placements: the differences and similarities between adoptive parents and foster carers. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry 8 (3) pp 401-418 Abstract

Beek M and Schofield G (2004) Providing a Secure Base in Long-term Foster Care London, BAAF

Beek and Schofield (2004) Promoting security and managing risk: contact in long-term foster care in Neil E and Howe D (eds) Contact in adoption and permanent foster care: Research , Theory and Practice London, BAAF

Schofield G and Beek M (2005) Providing a secure base: parenting children in long-term foster family care Attachment and Human Development 7(1) pp3-26 Abstract

Schofield G and Beek M (2005) Risk and resilience in long-term foster care British Journal of Social Work 35 (8) 1283-1301 Abstract

In Phase 3 (2005-2007) it has been possible not only to follow up the progress of the young people in their foster families, but also to investigate adolescence in long-term foster care, with a focus on the routes for leaving care and leaving or not leaving home. Each case had been tracked over a nine year period to show the varied pathways, developmentally and in terms of placements and family relationships, which each young person.

The picture that emerged was not surprisingly of a wide range of outcomes, with some very successful and some very troubled young people and foster families. Also emerging in some cases was a picture of some very complex interactions between foster family and birth family ties, as young people moved into adulthood and reflected back on their lives and built their adult identities.

Leaving care social work practice was evolving and there was variety in the extent to which leaving care workers were able to be advocates for young people, but also pay due attention to the significant role of foster families.

Key to our findings was the ongoing significance of the quality of care and relationship –the secure base- provided by the foster carers in adolescence and the transition to adulthood.


Schofield G and Beek M (2009) Growing up in foster care: providing a secure base through adolescence Child and Family Social Work 14 (3), p255 – 266 Abstract