A chance to be strong

Children are popularly represented as passive, dependent,
vulnerable and in need of protection or, alternatively, as
antisocial, deviant, irresponsible and in need of firm social
control. In other words, adults cast children in the role of either
victim or villain. What adults tend to think less about is how
children and young people negotiate difficult circumstances and how
they draw on their reserves of resilience to overcome life’s

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie), has published a
resource guide to help child care professionals make a difference
in the lives of fostered children and young people through focusing
on factors that enhance resilience.(2)

A complementary piece of work commissioned by Scie shows that
focusing on the strengths of young people is crucial to
outcomes.(3) This means focusing on resilience factors, or things
that help children and young people to cope, survive and even
thrive in the face of great hurt and disadvantage.(4)

Although it may not always be possible to protect a child from
further adversity, finding ways to boost a child’s resilience
should enhance the likelihood of better long-term outcomes.
Resilience-enhancing factors include: 

  • Building a sense of self-esteem.
  • Having at least one close tie with a committed adult.
  • Being happy and involved at school.

Foster care should offer children these opportunities. In
particular, a sense of direction is important to young people in
troubled circumstances because it provides stability and control.
The involvement of children and young people in planning their care
is crucial in promoting a feeling of control or self-direction. For
example, working with young people to develop goals or outcomes can
help to induce a sense of what the future might hold and how to
reach it.

There are several ways professionals can support young
people’s sense of control: by involving them in discussions
about their needs and their future; helping them to contribute to
care plans and reviews; and ensuring that their wishes are always
considered and where possible addressed.

They should give clear information, making sure that young
people know about their reasons for entering and remaining in care,
their rights while they are in care and how they can influence
their future plans.

rofessionals should also try to regard young people as resources
rather than problems in the process of seeking solutions in their
lives. They should encourage young people to make choices, declare
preferences and define outcomes for themselves and respect those

A second way to promote self-confidence is through the
participation of young people in the development of services for
looked-after children. Official guidance has emphasised the
importance of ensuring that the voices of children in the care
system are listened to and promoted.

There are now many systems in local authorities for encouraging
feedback from young people. In Cambridgeshire a “Just us” group of
looked-after children meets monthly at three localities. The group
members were consulted during the Best Value review of the
authority and contributed to ideas on training staff to work
sensitively with looked-after children.

Some councils have used information technology to promote
children’s participation and improve their service to young
people. The Kids in Care Together group, set up by Norfolk Council
has established a website () with helpful information for
looked-after children, including foster children and young people.
The group provides advice to the social services department and has
had a direct impact on policy and practice evaluation and

Despite the development of ever more sophisticated means of
communication, there is still concern that young people’s
involvement in service planning is confined to the triangle of core
support: young person, foster carer and social worker. It is within
this triangle that children and young people exercise their
influence on day-to-day decision-making, having few or no
opportunities to comment on service delivery more generally.

“If I was in charge of social services, I’d listen to them
[people in care] first, see what they’ve got to say. I
can’t just make the rules on what I think is best for them,”
a young person in care told Scie.

While managers express a commitment to young people having a
greater say on service development, questions about the
responsibility of managers and policymakers to creating the right
conditions for listening, learning and producing change remain
unanswered and the perspectives and experiences of young people are

The lack of systematic policies and practices to support and
integrate the feedback from children and young people limits
opportunities for young people to develop a sense of involvement.
Where evaluations do exist, the evidence suggests that the
participation of children and young people is having little impact
on decisions made in relation to agency policy and practice.(6)

“If I’m really honest…I don’t know what young
people in our fostering services think or feel about the care
they’re getting,” a senior social services manager told

hat is essential is that social workers, their managers and in
particular social care agencies recognise that they matter in the
lives of fostered children and young people by supporting caring
relationships, ensuring that school is a good experience and
finding ways to make participation of young people real, not only
in day-to-day decisions but in service development.

“Care has brought me to realise I am a person in my own right,
but I know I have been very lucky – [I have a] good social
worker, good residential worker and good foster parent,” a young
person in care told Scie.

 For copies of Resource Guide 4: Promoting Resilience in
Fostered Children and Young People
visit , call 020 7089 6840
or e-mail publications@scie.org.uk


This article looks at how professionals can make a difference in
the lives of fostered children and young people. Research shows
that focusing on the strengths of young people is crucial to future


  1. R Gilligan (ed), “, in G Kelly and R Gilligan (eds), , Jessica
    Kingsley Publishers, 2000
  2. L Bostock, , , Scie, 2004
  3. K Wilson, I Sinclair, C Taylor, A Pithouse, and C Sellick, , ,
    Scie, 2004
  4. R Gilligan, “, in M Hill and M Shaw (eds), , Baaf Adoption and
    Fostering, 1998 
  5. C Sellick, D Howell, , , Scie, 2003
  6. S Carr, , Scie, 2004

Further Information

  • B Daniel and S Wassell, , a three-volume set: , Jessica
    Kingsley Publishers, 2002
  • R Gilligan, , BAAF Adoption and Fostering, 2001

Contact the Author

Lisa Bostock is senior research analyst at the Social
Care Institute for Excellence. Her background is in conducting
social policy research. Her career spans shelf-stacking, being a
care assistant and conducting research on people’s
experiences of poverty, health inequality and

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