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Many foster children found positives in first lockdown, research finds

Many children in foster care were able to flourish during the first lockdown in March, according to research by Research in Practice and TACT.

Many young people and foster carers found the additional time on their hands enabled them to bond better while young people responded well to utilising technology to speak to professionals.

“Findings from the research provide some valuable implications for practice. For example, the lockdown highlighted some positive messages as a result of social care adaptations, including increased time as a family and the use of technology to increase the frequency of communication between social care professionals and families. Crucially, that digital means of communication can be a valuable tool for social care professionals when used in a strengths-based and person-centred way,” said the report.

The first national lockdown, which commenced on the 23 March, resulted in the majority of children and young people being out of education for four to five months. While children in foster care were amongst those classed as ‘vulnerable’ and therefore able to go to school, many did not attend during this period. In fact, Department for Education statistics found that just five per cent of vulnerable children were attending school in April, although this did rise significantly to 15% by May .

At the same time, social care services moved to a combination of digital and face-to-face interactions, while family time/contact with birth families often took place by phone or video call.

However, by the summer, conversations were indicating that some young people and carers were reporting improvements in wellbeing, particularly related to changes with social care contact, schooling and improved relationships in the home.

As a result, Research in Practice and TACT developed a survey to explore experiences in the first lockdown on foster carers, young people in their care and birth families. Surveys were circulated to young people in care, carers and birth parents. While response rates from carers and young people were good, the networks used were less effective in reaching birth parents, and their perspective is not well represented in these findings.

Key findings from the research found:

- Many young people and foster carers described that lockdown had provided them with the opportunity to spend more quality time with the families they lived with.

- virtual contact with professionals was received by young people and foster carers as the same or better than their contact prior to lockdown, with increased availability and convenience.

- Virtual family time was a more flexible and convenient option, which gave young people more control over the family time. However, the lack of physical contact was an issue for some, as was the additional responsibility this placed on foster carers to help manage family time.

- Some young people described thriving in experiences of home-schooling due to the flexibility and one-to-one support from carers. However, others struggled with a lack of routine and social contact.

- Carers reported how individualised attention supported some young people’s learning.

- While many young people reported looking forward to lockdown restrictions easing, they also hoped to maintain the increased quality time lockdown had given their families / households.

“Although there are some cautionary notes in ensuring use of digital platforms is done in a way that gives young people choice and control of their relationships, and acknowledges and enables the importance of relationships outside of their home with friends and extended family. The COVID-19 lockdown has provided some valuable lessons that may support practice going forward,” the report concluded.

Impact of COVID-19 on care and contact: Experiences in the first COVID-19 lockdown on foster carers and young people in their care – Evaluation Report (2020)

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