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The Educational and Social Support Experiences of Young People aged 13-14 years in Long Term Foster Care

Research Staff

Prof. Robbie Gilligan, Fiona Daly

About the Project


The predominant type of state care for children and young people in Ireland is foster care, which accounts for over three quarters of young people in state care. Another feature of the Irish state care system is that children and young people tend to remain in state care over time once placed, with more than three quarters having been in state care for one year or longer. Taking these two trends together, it could be said that long-term foster care is one of the key features of the Irish state care system. As a topic of research, foster care has been relatively under researched compared to residential care. Given that the majority of young people in state care in Ireland are in foster care, this study aimed to go some way to redress this balance. The study was funded by the National Children's Office and received the support of the Irish Foster Care Association.

What does the research focus on?

The aim of this study was to gain an insight into the daily lives of young people aged 13-14 years in long term foster care (defined here as being more than one year). The research's primary focus was on various aspects of young people's education and schooling, including their school attendance, behaviour, progress with subjects and educational needs. In addition to presenting the main findings on a wide range of issues related to young people's every day schooling, the study aimed to find out under which circumstances young people's educational experiences differed.

Certain aspects of young people's foster care placements were considered, for example, length of time in care, whether young people were in relative care or non-relative care placements and whether they were placed with a birth sibling, to name but a few. Young people's social supports were also a key feature of this study. Information was gathered on three key areas: the nature of young people's contact with their birth family, friendship networks as well as their participation in hobbies/leisure activities both inside and outside the home.

What does the research involve?

This research aimed to look at the day to day schooling and social supports of all young people aged 13—14 years in long term foster care, thus it involved a total population study. The full coverage of a selected age group is a rare opportunity for any research carried out in any care system. There were three criteria for inclusion in the study: firstly, that young people were born in one of the two years, 1988 or 1989, so that they would be in the selected age group at the time that a list of the relevant young people was being compiled for the research team by the relevant agencies; secondly, that they had been in foster care for more than one year; and thirdly, they had been with their current foster carer for more than six months, to ensure that the foster carer would be able to answer the questions.

A total of 205 telephone interviews were carried out with the foster carers of these children across the whole country. This was facilitated by the co-operation of all the area health boards in the country after a series of steps had been taken to give the research team access to the relevant foster carers.

For the purpose of data collection, it was decided that the foster carer would be the key informant rather than the young person themselves because consent to speak to the young person would have to be sought from the young person, the relevant health board (statutory care authority), birth parents and foster carers. For a national study, this would prove to be extremely cumbersome. However, the information required was of a factual nature and given that the young people live with their carers on a day to day basis, it was decided that foster carers were best placed to be able to provide the information required. Information from the interviews with foster carers was input into a computer package called SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) and analysis was carried out using this package.

Timescale and final products of the research:

The study commenced in September 2001 and was completed in 2005. Due to the complex processes involved in gaining access to foster carers, interviewing did not commence until October 2002.

Lives in Foster Care The Educational and Social Support Experiences of Young People aged 13-14 years in Long Term Foster Care (PDF 1,125 kB)

Last updated 15 March 2010 by The Children′s Research Centre (Email).