‘Matt had experienced police suddenly storming his parents’ home to raid it for drugs, as well as prostitution and paedophilia. Who was good and who was bad appeared quite a muddle to three-year-old Matt.

“Now he is aged 11 and Matt’s foster carers faced the challenge of how chaos and violence were more familiar to him than being understood.

“After much time and painstaking effort, following many an incident, Matt’s dangerous and threatening behaviour began to subside and finally, after 18 months, it had disappeared at home and at school.”

That story, adapted from the book Team Parenting for Children in Foster Care, which I edited, is just one of many similar tales.

There are around 50,000 children and young people like Matt in foster families in England.

In Oxfordshire, there are 447 children and young people in care and 289 foster carers. There are many long-serving foster carers in the county, including Bill and Molly Morris who have been fostering for more than 30 years.

Placing children in foster care can be challenging.

Each young person has had different experiences and needs different types of help.

While there are enough foster carers overall in England, they are not always living in the area a child needs placing in, or are not in an area where people are willing to take on teenagers, more than one child from the same family, or a child with disabilities or behaviour difficulties.

The Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education at the University of Oxford started in 2012 and is funded by the Core Assets Group, an independent provider of children’s services.

The centre aims to find the best ways to improve the lives of children and young people in foster care.

We do this by meeting regularly with young people like Matt, their foster carers, social workers and teachers.

We also train and employ foster carers and young people who have experienced care to be interviewers on our research projects, which often makes interviewees feel more comfortable.

There are key things we have discovered about what works in foster care, including that knowing or meeting people who are already foster carers is frequently why new foster carers want to start fostering.

Often they also want to make a difference or give something back, but it is contact with an existing foster carer or young person in foster care that motivates people the most.

We have learned that support for foster carers is very important in making sure that children stay as long as is needed and that the carers don’t give up fostering.

This support can include local foster carer meetings, having an experienced carer as a mentor, or options for the child to go to another family for a short period when things get too much.

Our research has also found that children of foster carers are more likely to cope with some of the disruption that can occur in their family life if they are part of the fostering team and have opportunities to talk to children who belong to similar families.

According to foster carers, fostering increases the caring and empathy skills of their own children and teaches them about responsibility.

The Rees Centre has lots of involvement with the Oxford community outside the university.

Takeover Day, held this year on November 22, gave children and young people the chance to work with adults for the day and be involved in decision-making.

Young people benefited from the opportunity to experience the world of work and make their voices heard, while adults and organisations gained a fresh perspective on what they do.

Nick, a 15-year-old who is in care, came to the Rees Centre for Takeover Day and produced our latest newsletter.

  • If you would like to know more about the Rees Centre, please contact us by e-mail at rees.centre @education.ox.ac.uk, on Twitter @reescentre, or via our blog at reescentre.education.ox.ac.uk/blog