Developed by Director Dave Walker, the Studio 3 'Good Life' Foster Care Project uses the Safety, Stability, Repair and Resilience Model (SSRR) to help children with complex behaviours stay with their foster carers.
Stopping Foster Care Placements Breaking Down
All children in care deserve the opportunity to experience a family setting, and to feel safe and happy and able to achieve their aims and hopes for the future. No child should feel ashamed of their past, and every child can be helped to overcome trauma and negative life experiences with the help of kind and skilled carers.
The majority of children in care are in foster care. It is not generally recognised that foster carers often have to manage the same level of complexities and challenges as carers in residential children’s services, without anything like the same level of backup. Unlike residential carers, foster carers are not allowed the opportunity to go home after one of the children they care for has been particularly anxious, stressed or aggressive, and, unlike residential carers foster carers, they often only get one chance to get their foster caring ‘right’.
The facts are stark - almost 1 in 4 foster care placements breakdown, and it is not at all unusual for children in foster care to have been in more than 15 placements before they even reach their 12th birthday. The reasons for this are often complicated, and generally not down to ‘bad’ foster carers. In fact, the foster carers are often doing the best they can in very difficult circumstances, which they have often been poorly prepared for. For some children who have experienced a life of chaos and trauma, the experience of foster care can be overwhelming and placements breakdown quickly unless their complex needs are quickly understood and supported by highly resilient foster carers. Yet at the same time, foster carers also need high levels of support in order to help them deal with high levels of concerning behaviour and to prevent ‘burn out’ that can contribute towards the continuing pattern of placement breakdowns.
Studio 3 have been providing practical low arousal behaviour and clinical support to residential children’s services working with complex children since 1998. In 2011, Studio 3 started work on a ground-breaking partnership between a residential children’s service and an independent foster care agency who were attempting to prevent foster care breakdowns for children who had previously been in residential care. What became quickly apparent was that, although foster carers often received high levels of training, little thought had gone into considering how theoretical models of attachment and the effects of trauma and abuse could be turned into kind, practical approaches. Whilst knowing about dyadic developmental therapy, Neurosequential development and Mary Ainsworth’s theory of attachment is important, this theoretical knowledge is not of great use to a foster carer who has just realised that the child they are fostering is about to run upstairs and break all of their wedding photos. This partnership between the residential children’s service and the foster care agency did not last, but Studio 3’s interest in the experiences of foster carers did.
The Practical Application of Theoretical Models
Over the last five years, Studio 3 have been talking to a large number of foster carers to try and understand the unique and daily challenges that they face in caring for the children living with them, focusing particularly on children who had either been in residential children’s homes previously, or were in danger of being moved into a residential children’s home. Our research has led us to the development of the integrated and practical ‘Good Life’ Foster Care Project alongside the Safety, Stability, Repair and Resilience Foster Care Model (or SSRR for short). This approach incorporates Studio 3’s mainstays of creating low-stress environments, practicing trauma-informed care and using low arousal approaches to provide a kind, child-friendly, respectful and developmentally appropriate attitude to caring for vulnerable children. This unique training is delivered to foster carers in a practical and engaging way, avoiding ‘death by PowerPoint’ or bombarding foster carers with ‘theoretical’ knowledge.
The model has been taken up by leading independent foster care agencies in England, Wales and Ireland and, as with all Studio 3 work, each step of the model is being rigorously researched and evaluated. Our first peer-reviewed papers on the research will be submitted later this year. Initial outcome studies with statistics provided by the foster care agencies are very positive, with placement breakdown being reduced to only 1 in 8 for even the most complex foster care placements, as well as foster carers reporting less stress and more satisfaction within themselves. Whilst these outcomes are still sad for some children, they are a clear improvement on the general situation for most children in foster carer.
As the ‘Good Life’ Foster Care approach and SSRR model continues to be applied to more foster care placements throughout the UK, Studio 3 will continue to share our findings from the outcome studies and the informed learning that we will receive from talking to children within the foster care system, as well as the wonderful people who care for them.
If you would like to know more about the ‘Good Life’ Foster Care Approach and the SSRR model please contact Director David Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or Clinical Manager Carl Benton at email@example.com.