How can we help autistic children and those with high levels of autistic traits who are in care get the help they need to achieve the best outcomes? This Fellowship will investigate this by looking at patterns of diagnosis, autistic traits, and outcomes for children in care. It will also gather information from foster/kinship carers, young people and social work teams to create lessons of good practice to guide future work and policy. 


There is very little research on the experiences and outcomes of autistic children and those with high levels of autistic traits in care. It may be difficult for this group to get a diagnosis, particularly as the presentation of behaviours associated with autism is 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/kinship carers, to access the best services to support them. A lack of understanding of autism and autistic traits may prevent foster/kinship carers from supporting children effectively. This may worsen challenging behaviours, causing high levels of family stress and putting foster placements at risk.  To address this gap this project will investigate autism in the care system in Wales, focussing on the diagnostic and trait profile of children in care, the outcomes for children, and experiences of young people in care and their foster/ kinship carers. 

The project will address the following research questions:

1. How do the rates and patterns of diagnoses for autism and other NDDs compare for children in care and those not in care? 

2. How do the outcomes for care experienced autistic adults compare to care experienced adults with other diagnoses and autistic adults who had not been in care? 

3. What are the patterns of autistic traits in children in care and how are these associated with other diagnoses, attachment difficulties, current difficulties, and levels of foster carer stress? 

4. What are the experiences of foster/kinship carers when caring for a child with a diagnosis of autism or high levels of autistic traits? 

5. How can the current policies and procedures be improved to support foster and kinship carers to access diagnostic services and support services for children with high levels of autistic traits?

Activities and Methods

This project will use a mixed methods approach, which will include an analysis of large datasets, a national survey of foster and kinship carers, and interviews and focus groups with social work staff, foster and kinship carers and young people.


The findings from this study will be available soon

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorDr Sarah Thompson

Academic Staff

ResearcherProfessor Donald Forrester
ResearcherDr Catherine Jones
Researcher Dr Kate Langley
Related SchoolsSchool of Social Sciences and Psychology
Related partnersSAIL Databank
FundersHealth and Care Research Wales