Behaviour that challenges

  • FosterWiki
  • Author:FosterWiki
  • Published:16 May 2023
  • Country: United Kingdom

Behaviour that challenges

Behaviour that challenges

A guide to behaviour that challenges, critical and acute situations, responding, reporting, recording and support.

Introduction to behaviour that challenges

Our children and young people come to us with complex needs and many adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) compounding their trauma.
This can manifest itself in the presentation of behaviours that are challenging and can be upsetting, worrying and confusing for a fostering family and the child or young person.
Some extreme behaviours can also present a safeguarding risk for the child or young person, other children in the fostering family and the carers themselves.

This page guides what is expected of us in our statutory role as foster carers, how to access support and what to do.

It is not intended as instruction on trauma-informed care or de-escalation techniques which can be accessed through your fostering provider.

What the National Minimum Standards say about behaviour that challenges

It’s crucial to remember that the NMS underpin our role as foster carers, it’s not always easy to remember this as we work with and care for children in a home setting and are often told we are ‘just parents’.

So knowing your NMS is vital, as it shows what is expected of us, what we are governed by and the limitations of our role.

STANDARD 3 – Promoting positive behaviour and relationships

3.1 Foster carers have high expectations of all of the foster children in their households.
3.2 Foster carers provide an environment and culture that promotes, models and supports positive behaviour.
3.3 Children are able to develop and practice skills to build and maintain positive relationships, be assertive and to resolve conflicts positively.
3.4 Children are encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour in a way that is appropriate to their age and abilities.
3.5 Foster carers respect the child’s privacy and confidentiality, in a manner that is consistent with good parenting.
3.6 Foster carers have positive strategies for effectively supporting children where they encounter discrimination or bullying wherever this occurs.
3.7 Foster carers receive support on how to manage their responses and feelings arising from caring for children, particularly where children display very challenging behaviour, and understand how children’s previous experiences can manifest in challenging behaviour.
3.8 All foster carers receive training in positive care and control of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes. The fostering service has a clear written policy on managing behaviour, which includes supporting positive behaviour, de-escalation of conflicts and discipline. The fostering service’s policy is made clear to the responsible authority/placing authority, child and parent/s or carers before the placement begins or, in an emergency placement, at the time of the placement.
3.9 Each foster carer is aware of all the necessary information available to the fostering service about a child’s circumstances, including any significant recent events, to help the foster carer understand and predict the child’s needs and behaviours and support the child within their household. The fostering service follows up with the responsible authority where all such necessary information has not been provided by the authority.
3.10 The fostering service’s approach to care minimises the need for police involvement to deal with challenging behaviour and avoids criminalising children unnecessarily.

Why information is crucial

In a 2020 Government report states that placements will be more effective and successful when all correct information is shared.

It is particularly important when it comes to any behaviours as the foster carer can be prepared and understand the underlying causes, the traumatic events, the adverse childhood experiences and the triggers that underly this behaviour. When carers can understand the ‘why’ they can respond in a supportive and understanding way.

Behaviour that challenges

The Government admitted in their report they had a fair amount of feedback reporting on variable quality and depth of information about children that was shared with foster carers at and before the point of placement.

The National Minimum Standards say

To most foster carers it is imperative, not optional when a child is placed with you, that you have all the information about them, especially around behaviours, as one foster carer put it:

Sometimes fostering services feel giving carers all the information about behaviour may prevent them from placing a child and often omit crucial details about a child’s outward behavioural expressions.

As one foster carer states in the Government’s 2020 report on matching:

Many children are placed in emergencies and all the information may not be available, however even in an emergency placement there will be plenty recorded about a child that should be available in a timely manner.

Having the complete picture of a child or young person will not put foster carers off but inform them, and that information is crucial to their care of the child, the safeguarding of that child, others in the fostering family and the wider community.

A foster carer from the 2020 report:

Behaviour Management Policies

As you can see from the NMS every fostering service should have a clear written policy on ‘Managing Behaviour’, the NMS also state that foster carers should have training around behaviour and de-escalation. Ask your authority or agency for both their policies and their training as soon as you start fostering, it may look like this:

Managing Behaviour

What the National Minimum Standards say:

3.8 All foster carers receive training in positive care and control of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes. The fostering service has a clear written policy on managing behaviour, which includes supporting positive behaviour, de-escalation of conflicts and discipline. The fostering service’s policy is made clear to the responsible authority/placing authority, child and parent/s or carers before the placement begins or, in an emergency placement, at the time of the placement.

FosterWiki on working with ‘Behavioural Policies’

Disclaimer: Not everyone agrees with how to manage behaviour that challenges, so this section is written by a team of foster carers with 100yrs of practical front-line experience between them across the age groups, based on our FosterWiki principles of trauma-informed care for all our children and young people. There are many differences in opinion on behaviour that challenges and how to approach it, this is our approach, grounded in day-to-day experience and practice.

It is also important to note that even if some things are stated in ‘Behavioural Policies’ many of them could result in allegations, and it will not matter whether it was written in their policy or not.

Even when clearly in policies, things like (taken from real policies) sanctions, confiscations, restrictions on sending or receiving letters, reparation and restitution, paying for damage and replacements, curtailment of leisure activities, prevention of participation, additional chores, early bedtimes, removal of equipment such as TV/mobile phone, loss of privileges, suspension of pocket money can cause issues.

The overriding message from the FosterWiki team was they felt most looked-after children had already lost everything that meant anything to them so taking things away from them further is not only harmful but it is not effective. There are so many better ways to work with a child who is expressing underlying emotions and trauma than taking more from them.

Sanctions that include things like confiscating

Sanctions that include things like confiscating, withdrawing, made to repair things, ‘extra’ chores, withholding pocket money, preventing activities, removal of belongings or equipment, taking away privileges, changing bedtimes usually leads to more confrontation, not less.

Neither did the team feel that isolating children or sending them to their rooms is appropriate for the majority of looked-after children, trauma and adverse childhood experiences mean not only is this unlikely to be effective but may well trigger children further and have an adverse effect on their mental health.

FosterWiki recommends

The FosterWiki team have researched fostering services behaviour policies from across the UK and feels they need a complete overhaul to reflect modern trauma-informed care. There are also many things recommended in these policies that not only do not align with modern therapeutic and trauma-informed practice, research and outcomes. Many of the things suggested in current ‘behavioural management’ policies could also lead to a worsening of situations, destabilise placements, affect a child or young person’s mental health, and many can lead to allegations, and often do.

If you foster teenagers here is our page:

What do you do when things escalate

Working in a trauma-informed way will have a big impact on the reduction of escalations of behaviour, and will help foster carers be attuned to their children’s emotions and triggers and to help a child self-regulate by giving them a safe relationship with a fully self-regulated foster carer.

However, despite the best trauma-informed care, situations will sometimes escalate and often triggers can occur beyond our control.

What do you do when things escalate

An escalated situation can be one of the hardest things for a foster carer, and knowing where to turn for support and what to do can be challenging.

The best thing you can do is be prepared

  • Ensure your fostering service provides you with good trauma-informed education from day one, and this is continued in CPD. Understand the principles of trauma, co-regulation and self-regulation.
  • Find out if your fostering service has de-escalation training.
  • If it is a new child to the family make sure you get all the information you need.
  • Have any de-escalation or behaviour responses written in care plans, recognised and signed off by the team around the child.

What do I do?

  • If you are advised to phone the police make sure you have the name of the person who advised you, the date and time recorded. The Police are a last resort and only for a safeguarding emergency and following a discussion with your social worker, a manager or an Out of Hours supervisor.
  • If the child or young person has gone missing you can find FosterWiki’s ‘Missing’ page here:
  • Send an incident report to your supervising social worker in an email and copy it to the child’s social worker, an email is a timed and dated record should you need to refer to this at a later date. Then report everything in your recordings.
If an incident has or does happen:

  • If it’s during the day phone your supervising social worker, if you can not get hold of them ring the duty line, and ask them how to proceed or what support they can put in place.
  • If it’s outside working hours or at the weekends your fostering service will have an Out Of Hours service phone number. Ring Out Of Hours (OOH) and explain what has happened. Often OOH is more of a recording service, and will refer you to the police if the incident is extreme or ongoing.


This is a very controversial area in fostering, this is from CoramBAAF Practice notes, no 63 on restraint and physical intervention in foster care.


Behavioural incidents and carers’ responses to them are often a trigger for allegations.

Foster carers can suffer from lack of support, burnt out and a lack of access to respite, appropriate mental health services for their children and inadequate training and are often left alone to cope with extreme behaviours. If things escalate it is invariably the foster carers that get questioned and investigated.

What can you do?

  • Request your fostering providers ‘Behaviour Management Policy’, something they should have an up-to-date version of as per the NMS and stat regs.
  • Work closely with your Supervising Social Worker and the team around the child to support your child and yourselves, especially if they are at risk of extreme behaviours.
  • Make sure you have an up-to-date care plan/safer care plan that details in writing any specific behaviour support systems applicable to the child in your care.
  • Keep your recordings up to date, factual and accurate.
  • Join the National Union of Professional Carers, the foster carer’s own government-approved
    union. Allegations can come out of the blue and are very often triggered by behavioural incidents and you have to already be a member to access their representation casework and defence. Your fostering services will supply you with free support in allegations, however, this support is not there to defend or represent you, which is what you need in an allegation. Here is the FosterWiki page with the joining link:

Foster carers comments

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