There is very little research on the experiences and outcomes of autistic children in foster or kinship care. This is an area I have been passionate about for a while and I am excited to be able to start a new project, made possible by a Health and Care Research Wales three-year fellowship.

From the existing research and conversations with young people and charities, it seems that it is often difficult for children in foster or kinship care to get a diagnosis of autism, particularly as the presentation of behaviours associated with autism can be similar to behaviours often associated with early trauma or attachment difficulties. As a result, it may be challenging for this group of children and their foster or kinship carers to access the best services to support them. A lack of understanding of autism and autistic traits may also prevent foster and kinship carers from supporting children effectively at home. This could lead to high levels of family stress and place foster and kinship placements at risk of breakdown.

There will be three main parts to my project:

  1. The first part will involve analysis of large databases to create an understanding of the rates of autism diagnosis for children currently in care and the outcomes for this group of young people when they leave care.
  2. The second part will involve a survey of foster and kinship carers in Wales. This will allow an understanding of the patterns of autistic traits for young people in foster and kinship care across Wales and how these relates to other measures, including attachment difficulties and parental stress.
  3. In the third part I will conduct interviews and focus groups with foster and kinship carers, social workers and young people. From these, I will aim to get a clear understanding of existing support process for autistic children and those with high levels of autistic traits, and what needs to change to improve the existing policies and procedures.

The three parts of the Fellowship will together provide a detailed understanding of the numbers of children experiencing difficulties, what the biggest challenges are for these children, and how we can best support them and their carers to get the best outcomes through childhood and into adulthood. The findings from this research will be widely disseminated, through academic publications and conferences, reports to local authorities, reports to charities and accessible versions for the public. 

Written by Sarah Thompson