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Caring for a looked-after child

Promoting positive behaviour

Children learn how to behave by watching, listening and talking to the adults who care for them. They develop their morals and values from what they observe of how adults treat others.

Children need clear boundaries and consistent rules. You should have high expectations of a child or young person placed with you and be clear about what is acceptable and not.

You're expected to understand, manage and deal with young people's behaviour, including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and help them to learn how to resolve conflict.

There's a wide range of training available to assist you in not only dealing with challenging behaviour in a positive way, but understanding the reasons why children behave the way they do. These will range from using alternative parenting techniques such as therapeutic methods to de-escalating problems in order to avoid serious confrontations.

This policy should be made clear to the child and parent or parents before the placement begins or, in an emergency placement, at the time of the placement.

Helping the child or young person to settle in

Since your foster child is new to your home, they will not know or understand your rules unless you explain them.

It is important that the child is treated consistently by everyone who is dealing with them particularly when there are two carers.

Everyone needs to agree on an approach and stick to it. Depending on the age of the child, it is useful for them to be involved in conversations about what behaviour is accepted and possible consequences.

Ways to encourage positive behaviour

For more information see our guide Promoting positive behaviour relationships (PDF) [144KB].

It's easy to only notice difficult behaviour, but by praising good behaviour, it encourages the child or young person to do this more. This is an effective method of managing behaviour used by childcare professionals.

The child needs to be aware of what they did well and when and should be told as it is happening, not later or after the event.

You should record behaviour to help you and other professionals understand it.

There are many techniques for helping to manage children's behaviour but remember, children and young people respond best to people that they like and respect and regardless of which technique you use, a positive relationship is the key to helping them to behave positively.

As a child/young person gets older they need to understand the consequences of their behaviour and take some responsibility for it. You might find that giving rewards at less specified times when you think that they are deserved can be the most effective way to encourage good behaviour.

Understanding challenging behaviour

A child or young person placed with you may be at a low point in their lives. They are vulnerable and may 'act out' their feelings.

This may show itself in ways such as bed-wetting, stealing food or money, being rude or aggressive, destructive or running away.

You should talk to the child or young person to find out their reasons for the behaviour and discuss the situation with the child's social worker and your supervising social worker to agree how the behaviour can be managed.

Sometimes the child or young person might not understand the reasons that things are going wrong for them and they might need your help to make sense of what is happening.

Remember that children and young people often do things wrong because of their age and understanding and these things are hard to help or to iron out. Examples of this might be clumsiness, sleeping in and being grumpy. On the other hand, their experiences might leave them behaving badly and until you both recognise this, it will be hard to change.

All children need rules and boundaries, but these should be focused on keeping them safe. Threats, sanctions and punishments rarely work with traumatised children.

A positive approach using natural consequences for inappropriate behaviour is often much more effective. Praise and positive responses often go a lot further than sanctions.

Safe handling and de-escalation (restraint)

Please see: Restrictive Physical Intervention.

Children missing from care

Please see: Advice for foster carers regarding children missing from care.

Risk and sexual exploitation

Please see: Advice on spotting the sign of child sexual exploitation and how to report it.

Standards and regulations

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011

Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care