A shared experience of fragmentation: Making sense of foster placement breakdown

Helen Rostill-Brookes*, Michael Larkin, Amy Toms, Clare Churchman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multiple placement transitions have been associated with poorer psychosocial outcomes for children growing up in local authority care. However, although there is an expanding literature examining the risk and protective factors connected with placement breakdown, very few studies have explored the quality of the move experience for those most closely involved with it. Our study considered how young people, foster carers and social workers made sense of unplanned placements' endings. Bringing together the lived experiences of these key stakeholders in the placement system added a novel dimension to existing research knowledge. What emerged from our analysis was evidence of a pervasive and shared emotional experience; all of the participants were affected by the breakdown irrespective of age, experience, or professional role. However, despite many commonalities, there was also a strong sense of fragmentation between the groups, which was characterised by discourses of mistrust and miscommunication. This meant that emotional reactions to the breakdown were often suppressed or dismissed, resentments built-up and attempts to find a solution were thwarted by silence or angry recrimination. These findings raise real challenges for practice and policy development. In particular, they stress the importance of shared and meaningful dialogue between all key stakeholders within the social care system, the need for more effective and timely support when placements are in crisis and opportunities for those most closely involved with the placement breakdown to process the emotional experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-127
Number of pages25
JournalClinical child psychology and psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • breakdown
  • care
  • multiple perspectives
  • placement


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