Matching in Foster Care
Matching in foster care: making good decisions for children in care and care leavers
The Government report sets out our findings from a small research project that explored what contributes to good matching decisions for children in foster care.
Published by: Ofsted
Published date: 6 November 2020
Matching children to the right foster families is critically important for children’s futures. Good matching decisions can help to ensure that fostered children have a secure base, feel loved and can enjoy their lives.
This Government project about matching in foster care is the first part of a wider research programme that looks at decision-making for children in care, or on the edge of care, and care leavers.
The research activity took place in the summer of 2019 before the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The Government are aware of the serious and varied challenges that the pandemic presents to practitioners and carers. The Government state “even as we publish this report, the picture is changing. but are confident, however, that our findings remain relevant”.
Executive summary from the Matching in foster care document
Matching children to the right foster families is critically important for children’s futures. Good matching decisions can help to ensure that fostered children have a
secure base, feel loved and can enjoy their lives.
When matches do not work, it leads to further distress and instability for children, many of whom will have already experienced significant previous disruption and trauma.
Unsuccessful matches can result in foster carers taking a break from fostering or deciding to stop fostering altogether, contributing further to the longstanding nationwide shortage of foster carers.
Recruiting enough foster families was a significant difficulty for all the local authorities and agencies that we spoke to or visited. Meanwhile, the number of children in care continues to grow, increasing the demand for foster carers.
Despite these constraints, we saw many examples of tenacious, effective work to identify suitable carers for children in need of foster care.
Positive and productive relationships between all relevant parties, including professionals, carers, children and their families, were a crucial ingredient of good practice.
Matching was most effective when high-quality, timely information was shared, based on a detailed understanding and analysis of children’s individual needs and foster carers’ skills and experiences. Children received up-to-date, accessible information about potential foster carers, and their wishes and feelings influenced the decisions about where they were going to live.
In turn, foster carers received balanced, thorough information about children. The right people were involved in developing plans that carefully considered children’s day-to-day and long-term care needs.
When these features of good practice were applied, children were more likely to settle well. The right support for children and their carers helped relationships to develop and flourish.
However, this kind of practice was not consistently evident, and there were several important areas for improvement that did not rely on recruiting more foster carers.
Above all, there was considerable scope for a more consistently child-centred approach to matching, including, for example, ensuring that children are prepared as well as possible for a move and that their wishes and feelings are appropriately taken into account throughout the matching process.
At a time of enormous significance to their lives, the child’s perspective should always be at the heart of matching decisions.
The conclusion from the Matching in Foster Care report
As we have seen, the needs of children, foster carers and indeed decision-makers themselves can vary greatly. Trying to balance these needs when matching children with carers is often a complex process. This is made more difficult in the context of a shortage of foster carers and a changing profile of the children in the care population.
All our conversations pointed to the shortage of suitable carers as being the most significant barrier to making good matches. We saw many thoughtful and effective ways to address shortfalls in matches that were, on paper, less than ideal. We also saw some very creative practices.
Social workers and carers regularly made great efforts to understand and meet the needs of children, often in difficult circumstances.
When discussing individual children, practitioners were able to tell us what had gone well and reflect on where matching practice could have been better. Support was usually readily available to practitioners to help them reflect on practice.
There was little evidence, however, that this had translated into wider organisational learning that could improve overall practice across the service. For example, meetings to consider potential learning from an unplanned ending – sometimes known as ‘disruption meetings’ – were not always held, even when required by local authority policy.
There were several areas of practice that can be improved to promote good matches.
Above all, the matching process must be child-centred. For example, children should be prepared well for a move. They should be involved as much as possible in creating the information that is shared with carers. Decisions should always take their wishes and feelings into account.
Children need to know as much as possible about the people they will be living with before they move in, including by meeting them first and visiting the house wherever possible.
Similarly, carers need to have good information about children so that they can provide appropriate care that is sensitive to their individual needs.
Relationships are central to good matching. Good practice in all relevant aspects of matching can really help these to develop and flourish. One independent reviewing officer we spoke to said:
Links you might find useful
- Matching in foster care
- What is a Placement Planning Meeting?
- Placement Plan Example Template.
- So you want… to end a placement.
- SMASH LIFE – GROWING UP IN CARE
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