Ending of placement in Foster Care


Annie Shafi

Ending of placements are tough for everyone involved even so that therapists recognise the importance of preparing the family and the child on the ending of the placement.

The placement can end for various reasons, sometimes the placement can be disrupted by events or ends without due planning. You have to consider the consequences of a placement ending for the foster child and the foster family when the placement ends.

Foster care:

when a child is removed from his family and home that is in itself a traumatic event. Such measures are usually taken as a last resort for the welfare and well being of the child. Such an intervention usually signifies the final stage in a series of actions by children’s services departments and other agencies.  If the child has been subject to abuse, neglect or trauma then there can be some sense of underlying relief. Nevertheless, this transition still represents a forced separation from the child’s family and carers when a placement comes to an end with an accompanying sense of loss. The move can sometimes incur a change of school, with friends left behind. This is extremely distressful for the child as his surroundings change. The disruption to familiar, even if unreliable, daily routines and the sense of security that they hold for the child.

The ideal foster care plan is to have a planned way for the child to phase back into the care of their own family and having foster care as a provision to look after the child in the interim.  This allows for the family time to settle their issues so they can provide a more settled and safer home. If that can not be achieved then a permanent care arrangement such as adoption or long-term fostering.

Research suggests that traumatised children respond best in a stable and consistent environment with daily routines delivered by adults who are able to provide appropriate and caring boundaries with the interest of the child’s welfare and happiness in mind. These boundaries must be sufficient to contain the child high level of anxiety.

For most children the experience of being placed with foster carers usually involves a number of transitions, planned and prepared for, resulting in a more permanent living arrangement with loving and caring adults.

Placement breakdown

Sometimes the process doesn’t always work smoothly. Some children and young people will experience a placement breakdown, this can be due to various reasons causing an abrupt end to a foster care placement.

Reasons for Placement Breakdown:

Research from the Social Care Institute for Excellence, ‘’Fostering Placement Stability” suggests five factors that appear to cause frequent placement moves:

  • a change of social worker, i.e. a break in the continuity of adult support. This can also bring about changes to a previous plan as a result of differing perceptions and understanding of the child’s needs. The relationship between a social worker and foster carers is a critical factor in placement stability and a change of social worker may lead to friction and even conflict in the professional network; a conflict that may get acted out in a dispute ostensibly about the child’s ‘best interest’.
  • over-optimistic expectations, i.e. initial hopes of a ‘home for ever’ are expressed by the adults without a thought out understanding of the child’s longer-term needs or readiness for the extreme acting out that may emerge from the child’s reactions to earlier life experiences
  • any policy or practice which generally discourages children from remaining fostered after the age of 17, e. the failure to plan for the transition to adulthood or a premature move into ‘independence,’ which is still the lot of too many looked-after young people.
  • the child’s level of emotional disturbance and motivation to remain in the placement, e. the extent to which the child or young person can be engaged in the process by the adults involved in their care, especially their foster carers, with the provision of the right kind and proper intensity of support required.
  • The management of key life stages, e.g. the onset of adolescence, e. the extent to which foster carers, who may have accepted the child at a young age, are prepared to adapt and face the different challenges presented by a teenager. This is often made more complicated by the re-emergence of what might have been thought to be extinct behaviours from the child who is re-working in adolescence earlier trauma.  

Whilst one or more of the above factors may play a part in an unplanned placement. The research just gives an overall view. Every foster family has their own way of doing things. A child comes into the environment and they must live and engage in the environemtn which is new to them.

The emerging dynamics, as the placement evolves, provide unique patterns of behaviours and responses that have to be thought about and contained if the stability of the placement is to be maintained and the foster family and the looked-after child enabled to grow and develop in mutually beneficial ways.

Understanding these dynamics is key in trying to disentangle the complexities around placement breakdowns and for making sense of the effect this can have on individual children, foster carers and other professionals.

It is important to provide stable and loving placements for children with extreme emotional and behavioural needs who cannot live with their birth family. Sustaining such placements is often challenging and stressful for foster carers and their supporting social workers. These challenges are not only to do with meeting the children’s daily needs, often exhausting and demanding work, but are brought together by the systemic difficulties of financial constraints and competing for organisational hassles.

what seems so evident is the lack of any consistent, organising authority able to provide an overview of the child’s situations, providing an understanding of emerging difficulties, whilst formulating some thoughtful responses to the complexities of behavioral presentations.

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