Nov 3, 2021

Building the evidence base to improve ‘matching’ in foster care

Further research is needed to identify what impact various matching practices have on children, young people and foster families

The decision to connect children with a particular foster family is a pivotal moment in the care journey. CEI recently conducted a systematic review on matching in foster care for What Works for Children’s Social Care. The review considered two questions: 1) the lived experiences of matching and the aspects that children and young people, foster carers, and children’s social care practitioners view as important and 2) the evidence on the effectiveness of current matching practices.

You can read the full report here.

Evidence around matching in the UK points to the importance of social care professionals consulting with children and young people in matching, including valuing which aspects of matching are most important to them. It was also considered valuable that foster carers, other children within the fostering household, and birth parents be consulted in decision-making where appropriate.

Matching reaches beyond the decision-making process to include preparation, arrival, and transitioning. Recommendations included that a planned process for transition take place. Foster carers and children and young people valued the sharing of accurate information, and children valued visits and discussions when they had occurred. The research raised the idea of foster carers ‘co-constructing’ a family with a child or young person.

A good ‘match’ was viewed as more than a box-ticking exercise. It accounted for the complexity of needs, identity, and preferences of children and young people and the structural systems of discrimination or disadvantage that they can face. ‘Good’ matching also ensured support for shifting identities. The review highlighted that further research is needed to identify what impact various matching practices have on children, young people and foster families.

The review raised fundamental questions around what makes a ‘good match’ versus what makes a good foster carer. It also raised questions around the role of power in decision-making for a child in care, the resources invested in matching in foster care, the intersectionality of a child or young person in care’s social categorisations (for example, race, religion, language, sexual orientation) and the ways in which those categories reflect identities and create systems of disadvantage.

Study methods

This was a full systematic review that aimed to comprehensively locate relevant studies per pre-specified inclusion and exclusion criteria and double-screened titles, abstracts, and full papers. We screened 7,006 titles and abstracts from 11 databases and screened 1,140 records on websites and grey literature. We retrieved and assessed 237 full-text studies for eligibility.

Twenty-three studies from 24 publications were included in this review following full text screening; 18 studies from 19 publications were included for Question 1 around views and experiences of matching in foster care in the UK and five studies were included for Question 2 on impact and attribution. Data was extracted per pre-specified criteria, and we undertook thematic analysis and an iterative process of refining the coding structure and developing findings presented as a narrative synthesis. Quality was assessed using Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) checklists. Confidence in the findings, as assessed using Confidence in the Evidence from Review of Qualitative research (CERQual), ranged from low to high.