Emerging practice details


C4EO theme: Vulnerable (Looked After) Children

The Park Parenting Approach

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Vulnerable (Looked After) Children
  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Park Foster Care

    Local authority/local area:

    An Independent Fostering Agency with carers available across the majority of the West Midlands and North West LA areas, and carers in the East Midlands.


    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    A parenting course tailored specifically for foster carers. The course was designed and researched by a social work consultant within Park Foster Care. The course is now mandatory and it differentiates itself from more generic courses designed for work with birth parents, in that its core focus is the way patterns of attachment can and do influence children’s behaviour.

    The number of children in care is increasing and is currently 65,520, of which the majority of children (74%) are placed with foster carers (see DfE http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00198585/looked-after-children-statistics-2011). There remains a shortfall of foster carers such that the Fostering Network suggests 8,750 new carers will be needed in 2012 see http://www.fostering.net/all-about-fostering/resources/statistics/statistics-children-in-care

    Compounding this shortfall is the fact that placement breakdowns are also increasing. This may be in part related to the laws of economics such that where demand outstrips supply, there is limited scope for placement choice. If matching cannot be as selective as it needs to be, placements could come under pressure. Notwithstanding the current shortfall in carers and its implications, the fostering role can be extremely complex and when placements do breakdown, there will inevitably be a number of contributing factors. One of the contributing factors stressed in the literature is the ability of carers to manage difficult behaviours see http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide07/placement/placement/index.asp.

    Golding (2003, 2001) reports that as many as 90% of children in care will have experienced abuse or neglect and could therefore have experienced difficulties in developing secure attachments.

    A child’s response to abusive and neglectful parenting can and does lead children to develop psychological coping strategies that result in the development of internal working models that impair their ability to relate to others; as evidenced in their behaviours.

    Strategies that deliver an appropriate response to these behaviours, based on an understanding of the child’s attachment history, can support ongoing development in a positive way. This can lead to a more secure attachment between the foster carer and the child, which in turn can lead to greater placement stability.

    Combining knowledge of attachment with aspects of social learning theory, the course aims to deliver a programme that develops foster carers’ understanding of children’s behaviours as well as the practical skills to help manage them.

    The course objectives are to:
    • Improve carers confidence;
    • Equip carers to respond effectively to behaviours they may experience in their caring role;
    • Support the long term aim of stable placements.

    Development of this course supports the legislative requirements outlined in Children Act 2004, which commits to improved training to Foster carers. In addition, it supports the objectives outlined in Public Health Guidance 28 standards 36 & 50, published by NICE/SCIE. This course also supports the aims and objectives of the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) national training programme for foster carers, particularly with regard to an understanding of child development and attachment theory.

    Howe, D. (2006). Developmental Attachment Psychotherapy with Fostered and Adopted Children, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 11 (3), pp. 128–134.
    Samral, A., Belnart, H. and Harper, P. (2011).Exploring foster carer perceptions and experiences of placements and placement support, Adoption & Fostering, 35 (3).
    Walker, J. (2008) The use of attachment theory in adoption & fostering, Adoption and Fostering, 32 (1).


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    The Park Parenting Approach is now a mandated course within Park Foster Care. The course is attended by carers with and without placements.

    The course is delivered in 2 hourly sessions over 9 weeks, by a social work consultant trained in Family Therapy as well as in Mental Health Social Work with Children and Adults.

    The Park Parenting Approach was developed by Philippa Kelly, the Registered Manager and Social Work Consultant at Park Foster Care. She then evaluated this course as part of an MSc dissertation, ‘Evaluation of a Training Programme for Foster Carers in an Independent Fostering Agency,’ (2009) overseen by University College London. The course draws heavily on the relevance of attachment theory in analysing behaviour, and also acknowledges research completed by Allen & Vostanis (2005) and combines the educational elements with practical skills required for implementation of successful parenting strategies.

    The course includes analysis of:
    1. Emotional behaviours;
    2. Motivated behaviours;
    3. Guilt & Shame;
    4. Children’s defence mechanisms and coping strategies.

    The course includes discussion of strategies to help deal with certain behaviours, and considers the use of:
    • Positive praise;
    • Rewarding positive behaviours;
    • Ways to avoid reinforcing negative behaviour;
    • Conflict reduction such as reframing requests away from 'not now' to 'we can after we...';
    • Use of Family conference;
    • ‘Permission’ for carers to make mistakes and to learn by reflection.

    Evidence from the literature which suggests that the approach to the way a course is delivered is equally as important as the content is also incorporated into the course. It is therefore run in a very practical and interactive way ideally, in maximum groups of 15.

    In addition to the educational elements, participants are encouraged to engage in discussions, share past experiences or talk about concerns with current placements where they feel they need some help. Use is made of behaviour diaries so that what is learnt on the course can simultaneously be put into practice. This not only encourages active learning but is also a way for carers to reflect, thereby supporting self- learning.

    In addition to keeping diaries, participants are set homework, which is then used in sessions to support group discussion and learning.

    Allen, J. and Vostanis, P. (2005). The impact of abuse and trauma on the developing child: An evaluation of a training programme for foster carers and supervising social workers. Adoption and Fostering, 29(3).


    Achievements so far

    Further details on your achievements

    The measure of the effectiveness of the course comes in two parts. Firstly, from evaluation during its first year of introduction. Secondly, from on-going review of how carers continue to use the strategies learnt in their everyday fostering role. Evidence for part two is summarised in the form of testimonials.

    Part 1: year 1 evaluation
    In 2009, this course was offered to all approved carers. 48% (n=61) volunteered to attend, of which 55 completed the course. The participants were invited to complete 4 distinct questionnaires designed to evaluate different aspects of the course, summarised below. Analysis of the results included both qualitative and quantitative methods.

    The Visual Analogue Scale: This asked carers to select three behaviours they found problematic before the course started and to rank them on a scale to indicate the severity of the problem from ‘Couldn’t be worse’ to ‘not a problem’. The difference in the recording on the scale after the course was analysed.

    The behaviours that carers found difficult included: risk taking behaviours, manipulation, peer relationships, testing out, stealing and lying. The results showed a statistically significant mean difference between pre- and post-measures for all concerns raised by carers.

    The Alabama Parenting Questionnaire (adapted to short form): This questionnaire was used to analyse positive and negative aspects of parenting style in relation to certain conduct problems. This test did not deliver a statistically significant result pre and post course. The researcher suggests that this technique may not be sensitive enough to small changes in parenting style.

    The Carer - Child Dysfunctional Interaction Scale: This was used to measure carer behaviour and carer-child interaction. Analysis of the results from the questions asked showed a statistically significant increase in carer confidence pre- and post-course. In particular, carer confidence had grown with regard to managing behaviours they had previously found difficult.

    Consumer Satisfaction Questionnaire: This was used to analyse the course content, the trainer and the carer’s views. 95% (55) of those who completed the course filled out the questionnaire. Of those:

    • 100% felt they would be able to use the skills and/or ideas taught
    • 87% appreciated the training style and use of examples
    • 72% believed it had improved their understanding of children’s behaviour.

    This evaluation supports the growing body of evidence that training which delivers a mixture of parenting skills and education can improve carer confidence, in the short term at least.

    Part 2: Ongoing evaluation: What the children and carers say in 2012
    We visited three carers who had been with the agency for over three years to ask them how they have used, and continue to use, what they learnt.

    We catch ourselves when we say ‘no’ and have to mentally back track so that we talk to our children in the positive…it takes some time to remember to do this but it is a better way to communicate with children…it can avoid conflict and help to put in boundaries without it being obvious.

    Our confidence grew because we were given permission to make mistakes. It can be difficult sometimes to understand behaviours and what to do. Once we knew that we were allowed to learn from these mistakes, we felt more empowered and open to the challenges we faced with children that have difficult behaviours.

    The course was delivered in a really engaging way. The tutor told stories and used examples that we could all understand and relate to. You found yourself laughing at some of the things you had done and could see why alternatives might be more helpful…she also encouraged us to think about the use of humour and stories in some situations with our children…this has been very useful.

    It was really helpful to understand guilt and shame and why some children might act depending on what they were feeling. I hadn’t thought about why a child might feel shame but the course showed me how I might help.

    When we used the time to ask questions about possible strategies, sometimes it was hard to see how they would help...and it seemed to be contrary to what my natural instincts were. With our young man, we were asked to think of his emotional age as 8, even though he was 13. This helped us to build an emotional relationship with him and to build that bond and trust. We were filling in some gaps for him emotionally and were giving him the chance to develop.

    The agency culture is one that prioritises the needs of the child and in so doing, by using the Park Parenting Approach, enables its carers to understand and support the needs of children placed. Whilst we have already acknowledged the complexity of the caring role and recognised that there are a number of factors that impact placement stability, we believe that training and support can fundamentally improve placement stability and can ameliorate the potentially devastating consequences that multiple moves may have on a child.



    Other details

    • The knowledge base used and principles adopted in the development of this training can be replicated elsewhere. Results from our evaluation supports on-going development of training that combines knowledge, particularly of attachment theory, with the practical skills to help carers make a difference in the lives of children and young people.

    - Course development and materials – approx £7,000 including Trainer’s own learning costs upon which training was developed.
    - Trainer time per course - £200 per session. There are 9 sessions so £1,800.
    - Carer time – we have consulted with carers regarding the most appropriate times to offer this training.
    - Carers are paid £25 per session attended. Attending all 9 sessions, carers would receive £225 per course.

    Provision of Crèche facilities to support carer attendance at the training. £50 per session assuming the agency has its own training venue. £450 for the full course.

    • Placement stability
    • Emotional health of the child
    • Carer satisfaction and empowerment
    • Although not proven, there could be benefits to the child’s mental health, their long term outcomes and prospects. The literature cites a disproportionate number of children who have been in care as under achieving versus the general populations. (http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s001046/index.shtml]). Whilst longevity of placement does not necessarily make it a good one, a stable placement that achieves positive relationships between the children in care and their carers can go part of the way to helping to rebuild that child’s internal working model and equip them for a world that for everyone, can be challenging and unforgiving.
    • More work is required on what it means to have a successful placement and how outcomes for children in care can be improved more generally.

    • 53% of the course participants suggested that they felt the information on the course would be “easy to hold onto”
    • We are looking to design a much shorter refresher course that updates knowledge from the first course and consolidates this based carer’s placement experiences.
    . We have developed an additional 4 week programme for carers to provide a greater theoretical perspective about attachment profiles and associated behaviours. We see this as enabling carers to further understand the internal working models of the children placed in their care which in turn will allow them to become ever more skilful in using the Park Parenting Approach.

    • There is the risk of research bias in the empirical findings and also in on-going evaluation. Whilst carers are self-employed, they may feel that certain comments they make could jeopardise their relationship with the agency.

    Core leadership behaviours
    The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL.

    i. openness to possibilities
    As an agency we have always strived to provide our foster carers with the most relevant training in order to support them in the task of caring for looked after children and young people. With this in mind we undertook a literature review of the research regarding supporting and training of foster carers. We were open to the findings which stated that a mixture of education and practical skills provided foster carers with the most effective way of caring for children and young people. From this the Park’s Parenting Approach was developed and we were fortunate that Kings College and the National Parenting Centre oversaw the evaluation with regard to the findings.

    The views of the carers with regard to the content and delivery of the training was also sought. It supported the carers in developing an understanding of attachment and the importance this has when caring for children who are placed away from home. It supported the foster carers to reflect on their own experiences of being parented and the way that children may view the world. This allowed the carers to consider behaviours, why they may occur and different parenting approaches.

    ii. the ability to collaborate
    Since the programme has been delivered it has supported a collaborative working process with foster carers, social workers and schools to enable the best care for the children and young people.

    Park Foster Care also works closely with a Clinical Psychologist who supports this approach to caring for children and young people.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people
    Attachment theory is a term used in relation to children and young people in the care system; however, it is rarely interpreted in to practical skills. As a result foster carers along with other professionals can feel disempowered rather than empowered by the theory of attachment and social learning.

    Due to our strong belief in the professionalism of foster carers and their knowledge and understanding of the children they care for, we believed that by training carers in such away we would increase this knowledge and understanding. This is turn would promote the role that foster carers have in the team around the child and support them in detailing their observations and approaches to care.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity
    Whilst the programme was developed by Philippa Kelly, it has developed through collaboration with all the staff and foster carers at Park Foster Care. This has supported the integration of attachment and social learning into the ethos of Park Foster Care.

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
    Park’s Parenting Approach (PPA) was something new to our carers that enhanced their skills and commitment which were already present. The Approach was something we believed would support our foster carers in their role, as it provides for an understanding of the importance of adapting parenting style to meet the needs of the children who are placed and their changing needs.

    We initially trialled it with the foster carers in Park Foster Care, their feedback was positive, stating that it increased their confidence; they also fed back that it supported them in their role. The PPA has grown organically becoming part of the core training programme and all foster carers are now expected to complete this course in the first year after approval.

    PPA has become self sustaining in so far as carers have recognised the benefits it brings when they are managing challenging behaviour in the home. It has become part of their approach and enables them to consider the many facets of behaviour, rather than just taking a behavioural approach.

    Carers have, over the last couple of years, asked for more detail about PPA so we have recently developed an additional optional 4 week programme. This provides carers with more knowledge about attachment theory itself rather than the practical management of behaviours.

    vi. focusing on results
    It was important for Park Foster Care to ensure that any change or development of our ethos has a positive outcome for children, young people and foster carers, as stable placements are the optimum. Therefore to evaluate this intense programme was of paramount importance.

    vii. the ability to simplify
    When developing PPA, Philippa Kelly and Park Foster Care’s aim was to ensure carers would be able to work with the advice and learning at home with the children. In order to do this the information had to undergo a series of ‘translations’ so it became workable at an individual level.

    This was important because we have some carers who have felt excluded from learning due to poor experiences they had at school. With the approach to teaching undertaken by Philippa Kelly and our other trainers, carers feel more confident in their ability as learners as well as carers.

    They feel empowered and more confident in what they do and how they do it. It has also encouraged them to undertake other training.

    viii. the ability to learn continuously
    For many of our carers the manner in which PPA is taught, and the way this initial training programme is consolidated through our programme of support visits and supervisions, has meant that learning and approach to teaching, encourages carers to then attend other training and develop themselves as foster carers.

    C4EO Golden Threads
    The following golden threads apply to this example.

    You can do it – promoting resilience
    Carers have put PPA into practice and have seen its value as it shapes the behaviours and the relationships they have with the children placed. It has also supported working relationships with Local Authorities and Schools, as we will provide them with a brief guide to parenting and attachment of children and young people who have experienced abuse and neglect. The strategies are simple and based on nurture, acceptance and empathy, these can be used in all settings, foster carers are also empowered to work with professionals and have the language to share their approaches.

    It takes a community to raise a child – see the bigger picture
    Carers share their experiences of working with PPA at their support groups. They support each other in helping come up with alternative strategies when caring for children placed.

    Culture not structure – learning together
    PPA has now been integrated into Park Foster Care as an approach, this is not to say we are blinded by this approach and at times recognise the importance of adapting and learning, that each child and family is different. Foster carers, supervising social workers (SSW) and support workers all have a good knowledge base from this training and receive this training within the first 12 months. All training for carers is available to SSWs so we share the same information and when visiting our carers we can share our understanding.

    Unite to succeed – the right support at the right time
    PPA is the core training required of all our carers because it provides advice and guidance on managing children and young people who no longer live with their families. However PPA can also be tailored to meet specific needs at specific times for carers depending on the current challenges experienced in placement.

    Prove it – making change happen
    PPA has evolved over time to become a core requirement for all our carers post approval. Through consistent messages from SSWs, from managers and from carers themselves offering their experiences of how PPA has made a difference, PPA has now become embedded and is working for carers.

    From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key
    From the beginning Park has always been focussed on finding creative ways to support children in placement. It takes a systems approach whereby we look at the children’s world and seek to address those issues we can through by working with the team around that child to make a difference.

    Part of this approach has been the tailored PPA which is a key element in providing carers with the information, advice and guidance they require to care for the children placed.

    It is also a key element or our overall vision we have for the agency, the carers and for the children placed.

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