University of Limerick
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Risk factors and patterns of disruption in foster care in Ireland

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posted on 2024-01-08, 14:55 authored by Caroline Roe

Background: There is significant research on the harmful impact of placement moves on children in State care and the effect this has on outcomes for this vulnerable group. There exists, however, a deficit of research into placement disruption and the interplay between the profile of children entering care, the profile of foster carers and the capacity of carers and child welfare agencies to meet children’s needs.

Objectives: To gain a greater understanding of the profile of children entering foster care in Ireland and reasons why placements are disrupting so that the risk of placement disruption can be minimised and a child-centred approach to placement matching can be developed. In contrast to other studies, to use the views and experiences of foster carers to lend a fresh perspective to the analysis.

Methods: A retrospective, mixed methods design was employed which involved:

(1) A desktop review of Disruption Reports (n=142) submitted to and approved by 3 Foster Care Committees in the Child & Family Agency (TUSLA) over a 6-year period (2012-2018);

(2) Semi-structured interviews undertaken with a sample of foster carers (n=14);

(3) A review of relevant administrative data collected by TUSLA (including the profile of need in the child in care population) and Register of Foster Carers (including the profile of foster carers).

Findings: Analysed across four domains: child related factors; birth family related factors; foster family related factors and TUSLA related factors, the findings indicated the following:

• some foster placements, including general and relative care, are more vulnerable to disruption than others;

 • many children had experienced considerable trauma prior to entering care; 

• birth parents often struggle to come to terms with the loss of their child to care;

• traditional assessment models underestimate the range and level of need within the child in care population;

• the nature of disruptions varies according to a number of child related features (e.g., behaviour), although other factors key to Agency planning also contribute;

• Without appropriate support and training foster carers are ill-equipped to deal with the needs of highly traumatised children.

Conclusions: The findings indicate that there is a complex interplay between the needs of children entering foster care, the role of parents, the capacity of the foster carers to meet the children’s needs and the ability of the care agency to oversee and provide for vulnerable children. They point to the need for changes to assessment and decision making in child welfare and protection at first point of entry to the care system and the need for a multi-disciplinary, child-centred approach, to foster care placements.



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Patrick Ryan

Second supervisor

Sharon Houghton

Department or School

  • Psychology

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