Helping foster parents understand the foster child's perspective: a relational learning framework for foster care

Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;19(4):535-47. doi: 10.1177/1359104514524067. Epub 2014 Mar 6.


The behaviour of children in foster care is influenced by a variety of factors including previous experiences of maltreatment and adverse parenting, as well as the impact of separation from birth parents and placement in care. These factors make it difficult for foster parents to accurately interpret the child's behavioural cues, a necessary precursor to sensitive parenting. The relational learning framework introduced in this article, drawing on attachment theory, facilitates the foster parents' access to some features of the child's mental representations, or internal working model, which may be pivotal in understanding the child's behaviour and therefore successfully managing it. Recent studies suggest that parents' ability to understand the child's psychological perspective, or mental state, is related to the child's cognitive and social development. This article presents a method to enhance the foster parents' understanding of the child's psychological perspective. The model is currently being evaluated for use with foster parents, mental health and social work practitioners.

Keywords: Foster care; internal working model; mental representations; mind-mindedness; relational learning framework.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Comprehension*
  • Empathy*
  • Foster Home Care / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*