Foster care and Autism
What is foster care?
How do children with an ASC experience foster
How can we improve the service for children
and foster carers?
• Father of a son with an ASC
• Qualified and registered social worker and qualified
• Regional Councillor on the NAS national council
• NAS member and member of the management committee
for Tyneside and Gateshead NAS support group
• Trustee with Gateshead Autism Group
• Coordinate fathers groups with Daisy chain and NAS
• Fostering Manager Orchard Care
• Previously Secretary NAS Tyne and Wear foster carers
support group and member of the Fostering Network’s
Steering committee on fostering children with a disability
Defining Foster Care
• Foster care in Britain is a state regulated activity for
children deemed unable, for whatever reason, to
reside with their birth family. Fostered children are
looked after by approved fostering families
(Department of Education, 2011).
• Fostering means that the child or young person
remains the legal responsibility of the local authority
and/or their birth parents. This is different to
adoption, where the legal rights of a child are
permanently transferred to their adoptive parents.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that
affects the way a person communicates and relates
to people around them. Children and adults with
autism have difficulties with everyday social
interaction. Children with an ASC may find it difficult
to develop friendships and relationships.
Children with an ASC can find foster care to be a very
• There are many people with an ASC in the UK and it is
understood that about 1 out of every 100 people is on the
• Estimates are that the figure is nearer to 1:77 ratio with
USA reporting instances of 1:50
• Autism is sometimes called a hidden disability and can go
unrecognised in foster care.
• Childhood is important to us all and stays with us all
• There are nearly 60,000 children who live with foster
families across the UK (the Fostering Network, 2013).
• For some, it will be a short stay before returning
home or being adopted. For others, it will be longterm until they move into independence.
• A conservative estimate is that there are
approximately 600-1000 children with an ASC in
• I think the actual figure will be at least double this
• As a practitioner I have often thought about
how a child with an ASC could cope in public
care and whether or not their needs are going
• By definition they are living away from their
• They undergo much change through fostering
and their needs can be misdiagnosed with
autism being hidden.
• Fostered children with an ASC are children
who require positive childhood and family
experiences, the same as any other child.
• There is a gap in services targeted to meet the
distinct and individual needs of fostered
children with an ASC.
• This is both a matter of positive childcare
experiences and equality.
Autism and Foster Care
• You may well think there is loads of information, but
• Google search brings up few resources.
• Data base search of academic journals (5/5/13 Web of
Knowledge) showed nothing.
• Very few organisations specialise in supporting foster
carers to look after children with an ASC.
• Therefore services are variable and reliant on good
• This is a matter of discrimination as needs go unmet
• Children in foster care experience a range of
• They may have experienced maltreatment and the
destabilizing effect of living with a substitute family.
• There is a tendency for children to experience a
multitude of different placements (it is not unusual
for children to have three or more carers in a year).
• Children's behaviour can generally be misunderstood
and labeled as naughty.
• The presenting behaviours of children in public care may
be automatically (and often correctly) attributed to an
attachment disorder or trauma rather than look at an
• It is also to be expected that traumatic behavioural
responses arise from distressing events or for children to
transfer negative emotional feelings onto a foster carer
and present problematic behaviours due to
• A child with an ASC may find themselves lost and
confused as they move between foster placements.
Adversities and ASC
• Alongside the ASC a fostered child will have a range of
adversities including attachment dysfunction, trauma,
bereavement and the other range of adversities fostered
• Importantly a child with an ASC experiences a whole
range of adversities associated with autism and the
intervention strategies to look after an autistic child are
different to those required for fostered children without
• The adult carer has to provide order and stability for a
child with an ASC – but can’t if they don’t know about
autism, particularly should the child not have a diagnosis.
A Young Person’s Profile
Sally was diagnosed with an ASC whilst in her
teens due largely to the perseverance of her
carer; her extreme behaviour had been seen
as trauma and attachment difficulties, due to
her infant maltreatment, (including sexual
abuse). Prior to the diagnosis she experienced
multiple placement breakdowns and was
clearly an unhappy little girl.
• Michael has been diagnosed with classic Kanner’s
autism and was matched with a foster carer who had
expressed an interest in looking after a child with an
• The social workers, who don’t have specialist training
or experience, often query how the carer manages to
look after Michael.
• His foster carer thought this was an annoying
question as it shows how little they understood
• As a father I know there are many positives
associated with autism. A dad explained to me he
always has something to do with son.
• Parents describe having a disabled child as a positive
life changing and affirming experience as they
become more sensitive and aware of others.
• Families with a member on the spectrum evolve
family practices and routines around autism – that
work. I believe this is much more pronounced than is
usual in a family without an autistic member.
• I have worked with many foster carers and have seen
how some claim children with an ASC far more readily
than I find usual in fostering.
• I have seen fostering families adapt in very much the
same way as birth families so that they are able to care
for the child with an ASC.
• I have also seen professional support struggle to
recognise this shift in fostering.
• Autism also provides an explanation from which to
understand the child, it can also suggest ways of caring
that are not understood by many professionals who
don’t have specialist knowledge about autism.
A foster carer’s profile
• Burt is the main carer for Chris, who is aged 4 and he is
on the spectrum. Chris is doubly incontinent and nonverbal. Burt has cared for Chris for just under a year.
• Chris is very attached to Burt and he describes himself as
his carer, protector and play mate.
• Burt is attached to Chris and his family is adapting to
meet his needs. They see Chris as a little boy, and though
they recognise his autism they don’t see this as too
important as they feel it is not his biggest hurdle.
• Chris has very complex needs far beyond a usual child in
• Anne is a single woman who fosters. She has looked
after Assad since he was a baby. He has been
described as having very complex needs associated
with his autism.
• Anne is his long-term foster carer and he has lived her
for ten years.
• While professionals commend Anne she has found it
hard to get the right support as she sees Assad as a
• Anne does not have parental responsibility and at
times she has been in conflict with professionals as she
always seeks the best for Assad.
Fostering a child with ASC
Looking after a child with autism is not only
difficult but also very rewarding. Yes it can be
stressful and each day is different.
It can be difficult for anyone not living with an
autistic person to understand, so we have set up
our own specialist service.
We find it helps to have specialist support and
training for carers and children.
Through this service we can share our experiences
of caring for autistic children and raise our
awareness of the issues.
If you would like to know more please contact:
Thank you for your time