The majority of children in care in the UK live in a fostering family. The decisions made in matching children with a particular foster family plays a pivotal role in their care journey. This systematic review aims to explore the lived experience of matching children with foster families and examines the evidence on the outcomes of matching decisions. Findings suggest that matching processes were often completed in rushed or crisis environments, and identify a number of factors children and young people reported to be important in the matching process. Evidence on the impact of matching decisions was weak and therefore no strong conclusions can be drawn from this literature.
The primary objective of this systematic review was to assess the available literature on the experiences and perceptions of what is important for matching in foster care (Research Question 1) and how the matching process can be attributed to outcomes such as child wellbeing and foster home stability (Research Question 2).
How we went about it
Searches looked for studies that explored the perspectives of care-experienced young people, foster carers and children’s social care practitioners in the UK on aspects considered important in the matching process. Additionally, searches sought studies using experimental or quasi-experimental designs to assess the impact of matching processes for children and young people in foster care.
Searches were conducted using eleven academic databases, as well as websites and the grey literature.
Eighteen studies were included for the analysis of Research Question 1; sixteen of these studies were located in England, one in Scotland, and one was in the UK but did not say where.
Five studies, four located in the USA and one in Canada, were included for Research Question 2.
A review of the quality of included studies concluded that there was adequate data for high confidence in some findings and low in others, with methodological limitations in some studies. As a result of risk of bias in the included studies being high, the findings should be interpreted cautiously.
Experiences and Perceptions
Matches were often made in a rush meaning that carers and children didn’t receive much information about each other beforehand, and there was little time to prepare for the child’s arrival into the foster home.
Children and young people wanted to be involved in the match decision-making process. Information sharing was also important to foster carers, children and young people, and the initial arrival into a foster home was seen as a critical moment.
Social workers sometimes prioritised matching by ethnicity and culture without considering what was important to the child or their multiple and intersecting identities. Children and young people valued shared qualities and experiences with their foster carers, but living in a household that respected and supported their identity was also important.
Impact and Attribution
There were not enough studies included to allow for any strong conclusions about the impact of matching in foster care.
The review recommends greater reflexivity and consultation in decision-making and in foster care planning and transitioning processes. Matching in foster care should be well-resourced to allow for child-centred practice which supports social workers to reflect on intersections of identity, consultation with young people and their birth families, and visits between the child and potential foster families.
There is a need for high quality studies to be carried out so that we can find out about the impact and attribution of various matching practices in foster care.