Parenting While Apart: The experiences of birth parents of children in long term foster care.

Project Details


The stability and well-being of children in long-term foster care will be affected by many factors, but one key factor will be the involvement of birth parents. The birth parents' role becomes significant for outcomes, not only through direct and indirect contact with their children, but also through their involvement as joint parental decision makers and their potential future role for young people who may choose to return to the birth family in adolescence.

Although the role of birth parents is recognised to be a key issue for foster children and young people, the experience of birth parents and the models of social work practice with birth parents have received less attention from researchers than the experience of foster carers and foster children and the nature of social work practice within the placement. This is true not only in the UK but also in Scandinavia, which is why this study is being developed in collaboration with our partner research institutions at the University of Bergen (Principal Investigators Dr Toril Havik and Bente Moldestad, funded by Stiftelsen Woyen, a Norwegian charitable foundation for child welfare) and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (Principal Investigator, Dr Ingrid Hojer, funded by Allmänna Barnhuset, also a charitable foundation for child welfare).

This proposed qualitative study will complement existing studies of foster care (reviewed by Sinclair 2005) and of planned long-term foster care (Thoburn et al 2000, Schofield et al 2000) by specifically investigating the experience of birth parents and the nature of social work practice with birth parents.

The study will run from 1st January 2008 - 31st December 2008. The sample will be 25-30 birth parents of foster children who were under the age of 10 at placement and who have been in their long-term foster family for at least a year.

The first part of the study will consist of three focus groups (each with 7-10 birth parents) in three different areas. Each group of parents will be asked to share their views and ideas, followed by interviews with individual group members who are willing to talk about their experiences in more depth. To complete the sample we will also interview birth parents who have difficulty in attending or prefer not to attend groups.

Three focus groups of children's social workers will also be set up to discuss the challenges and benefits of working with birth parents of children in long-term foster care. The goal will be to identify innovative practice, as well as to identify the full range of issues that increase the likelihood that shared parenting by corporate parents, birth parents and foster parents will be focussed on the best outcomes for children and young people.

The outcome of this international project will be to develop, in consultation with organisations such as BAAF and the Fostering Network, practice guidance for working with birth families in long-term foster care.

The Government White Paper 'Care Matters: Time for Change' (2007) has stressed the importance of achieving better outcomes for children in care by improving the quality of foster care through to adulthood and by improving the quality of social work practice. It is essential to include in that social work practice a commitment to good practice with birth parents, informed by birth parents' experiences, as this too will contribute to foster children's well-being and long-term stability.
Effective start/end date1/01/0831/03/09


  • Economic and Social Research Council: £69,493.00