Conceptualising and Effecting Good Outcomes in Foster Care:an exploration of the research literature
Wilson, Kate and Sinclair, Ian and Taylor, C. and Pithouse, A. and Sellick, C. (2004) Conceptualising and Effecting Good Outcomes in Foster Care:an exploration of the research literature. SCIE Knowledge Reviews, 5 . Policy Press, Bristol.
On any one day over 75,000 children are looked after by local authorities in the UK. Numerically the most important form of provision for these looked after children is foster care. This caters for about 60% of those looked after at any one point in time. This review is about its outcomes. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one meaning of outcome as 'a visible or practical product, effect or result'. This definition emphasises causality and efficacy. So we are primarily concerned with outcomes which foster care can bring about: changes that are desired (or not) and that would not have occurred without it. That said, it is often difficult to know whether these changes should be seen as the effects of foster care or would have occurred in any case. In what follows we first describe what happens to foster children. We then turn to the more complicated question of how far what happens can be seen as an effect of foster care itself. Against this background we consider five broad issues. • Methodology – how do we decide whether an apparent outcome is in fact produced by foster care and not simply a state that follows it? • The background to outcome research in foster care. What are the basic characteristics of fostered children? Why are they fostered? How do they do? What is foster care meant to do for them? Against what criteria should its outcomes be assessed? • The overall impact of foster care. Judged against these criteria do children on average do ‘better’ if they are fostered than would have been the case if they were not? • Differences within foster care. Given that a child is fostered what makes a difference to whether he or she has a good or less good outcome? • Implications. In the light of this evidence what might be done by way of organisation, training and so on to ensure that the outcomes of foster care are as good as possible?
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