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6.1.20 Promoting Positive Behaviour and Relationships within Foster Families


See also Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 Regulations 13, 17, and Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011, 3, 5, 15, 20, 21, 22, 28, 30.


This policy is applicable to Blackburn with Darwen foster carers, family and friends foster carers, short break carers and those carers who are employed by independent agencies who are caring for children who are looked after by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

See also Safe Care Policy.


Section 5, Resources and Training Available for Foster Carers was updated in September 2018


1. Background
2. National and Legislative Framework
3. Principles of Behaviour Management
  3.1 Seek to Reward Good Behaviour
  3.2 Support Positive Behaviour to Establish Good Relationships With the Child Based on Mutual Respect
  3.3 Establish Household Rules Which are Consistent – Set Limits
4. Managing Behaviour Safely
  4.1 Sanctions
  4.2 Family Rules
  4.3 De-escalation Techniques
5. Resources and Training Available for Foster Carers
6. Physical Interventions
  6.1 Non-Restrictive Intervention – Permissible by Foster Carers
  6.2 Restrictive Intervention (Restraint) – Not Routinely Permissible by Foster Carers

1. Background

It is recognised that foster care can be a very complex and difficult task yet one that can be very rewarding. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council recognises that carers need relevant information, training and support in order to assist them in offering a good standard of care to children who are looked after. Foster care can improve the lives of Looked After children and young people, who are a diverse group with a variety of needs. These children have widely differing social, ethnic and religious backgrounds and diverse experience of family and community life. All these factors must be considered by the social workers and foster carers who look after them.

One common point is that many of these children will have been damaged by their early life experiences and, as a consequence, may have high levels of social, physical, educational and emotional health difficulties. Children who need foster care may, unfortunately, have had life experiences that include Neglect, abuse, emotional and physical trauma, and separation and loss.

These children may lack in confidence, be anxious or have poor social skills. They may be aggressive, withdrawn, destructive, impulsive and challenging. Sometimes, children’s problems are not so serious, yet daily life with them can still be difficult because they demand attention and reassurance. Support given to a child or young person who is living within a foster family must ensure that the child is safeguarded and protected and that the welfare of the child is paramount.

Foster carers are with the child every day and are important people in a child’s life, therefore good parenting, supported by training on behaviour management techniques and strategies, will enable them to achieve and develop a more positive relationship with the child and a more harmonious life and will enable the child to feel good about themselves.

2. National and Legislative Framework

The legal and statutory framework provides guidance regarding the management of behaviour of children who live in a foster family. There is an emphasis on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and on certain actions by foster carers which are prohibited.

The national policy context is framed by the government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda and the five outcomes:

  • Be healthy;
  • Stay safe;
  • Enjoy and achieve;
  • Make a positive contribution;
  • Achieve economic well being.

The Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4 – Fostering Services 2011 state that:

‘Being able to promote positive behaviour and manage children’s behaviour well is central to the quality of care provided in any foster home. Negative behaviour should usually be managed through building positive relationships with children.’

The National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services focuses on delivering achievable outcomes for children and young people. It clarifies responsibilities for all these working in foster care, by setting out ways the service to children and young people can develop and the most appropriate way to meet the child’s needs and supports the provision of advice and training to foster carers.

Standard 3 of the National Minimum Standards 2011 has the desired outcome of:

Promoting Positive Behaviour and Relationships so children enjoy sound relationships with their foster family, interact positively with others and behave appropriately.

3. Principles of Behaviour Management

The aim of the policy is to equip carers with the knowledge and skills to manage behaviour positively. This includes supporting positive behaviour and the de-escalation of conflicts and discipline.

Most behaviour is learned, which means it is shaped by our environment, in particular our relationship with others. Other people’s responses can make it less likely that we behave in a particular way.

There are certain principles which seek to guide carers in managing behaviour effectively.

3.1 Seek to Reward Good Behaviour

Behaviour is influenced both by what comes before it – the ‘trigger’ – and then by the ’consequence’, so it may be possible to change the trigger and/or the consequence in order to produce positive changes in the behaviour.

Some of the Triggers that occur before the behaviour, might be related to:

  • Social cues (tone of voice, criticism or even a look);
  • Copying (behaviour of others known to them, seen on T.V. or a trigger from memory);
  • Their past (a memory, an unpleasant thought from the past);
  • A place or situation (e.g. tantrums in a supermarket);
  • A person (e.g. a visit with birth family);
  • Self talk (a child who has a negative view of self or a child who is told they are ‘stupid);
  • Other factors (poor health, poor diet, lack of sleep, uncertainty of future).

Some of the Consequences:

  • When we do something and the consequence is positive or rewarding we are more likely to repeat this behaviour;
  • To strengthen a positive behaviour in a child, you need to consistently reward it, e.g. by praising the behaviour;
  • If the behaviour is negative and the consequence is negative or unpleasant, this makes a child less likely to repeat the behaviour;
  • Inappropriate behaviour.


We create problems when we unwittingly provide rewards for behaviour we do not want to encourage. Attention from a carer is a powerful motivator for a child, so we need to use it carefully!!

3.2 Support Positive Behaviour to Establish Good Relationships With the Child Based on Mutual Respect


By giving praise

Most children respond well to praise, encouragement and positive attention. For many children, this alone maybe enough in assisting them to behave.

Praise, encouragement and positive attention is the foundation of a warm, positive relationship between children and their carers.

Focus on the positive

It is easy to become preoccupied with difficult and challenging behaviour and if carers are struggling to improve the way a child behaves, it can leave them feeling exhausted. It can also leave the child feeling they are unable to do anything right.

It is important to look for the positives and provide encouragement and praise. If carers observe and point out a child’s positive behaviour, not only will it make the child feel better but the carer, too. Positive attitude and warmth will reinforce a positive relationship between the carer and child, then the child will want to behave out of a desire to please their carer.

Praise is an important way of providing a reward for positive behaviour. Praise can be said – ‘Well done!’ – it can be a smile or a pat on the back as well as words.


Praise works best when it is:

  • Specific;
  • Sincere;
  • Immediate;
  • Appropriate.

What to praise:

  • Doing something you have asked of the child;
  • Playing well and encouraging co-operation with other children;
  • Doing well at something;
  • Having good manners;
  • Doing something right even when not asked to do so.

By using play to give positive attention

Many children who become Looked After, learn through their early experiences that the way to get attention is to misbehave. They are often ignored when quietly playing and chastised when they are behaving badly.

When children come into your care, one the carers roles is to establish the exact opposite of this.

The aim is to concentrate on giving positive attention when the child is behaving well and to give comparatively little attention to misbehaviour.

How to positively support a child in play

  • Go at the child’s pace;
  • Repeat activities where they have learned skills e.g. jigsaws;
  • Imitation;
  • Mirror their actions;
  • Let the child choose;
  • Move to activities when they want to;
  • Allow the child to lead;
  • Follow their ideas rather than suggesting your own;
  • Show enjoyment, relax and have fun;
  • Avoid power struggles;
  • Don’t do things better than them and don’t undermine them.

Carers should use descriptive commentary at regular intervals throughout the day, as this assures children that the carer has noticed and is showing an interest in what they are doing.

It only takes ten minutes, a few times a day, and is a way of being intimate, warm and very rewarding for both carer and child.

Many people fall into the trap of buying expensive toys in order to keep children amused. Joining in playing provides attention that promotes relationships and good behaviour and this is invaluable.


By using a reward

Praise and attention are very beneficial in the care of children and in promoting positive behaviour. Sometimes, some children need that little bit more, in these instances rewards such as small treats, extra ‘privileges’ or pocket money, and gifts can give that little bit extra encouragement.

Why rewards might be given:

  • When you want your child to learn a new skill;
  • When you want a child to carry out a tasks;
  • When you want a child to break a habit;
  • When you want to turn around a particular problem;
  • When you want them to behave positively;
  • When you want a child to co-operate.

When rewards might be given:

  • ‘Out of the blue’, e.g. a surprise treat when a child has behaved well;
  • When a child is achieving in accordance with a reward/star chart;
  • When a reward has been planned in advance.

To make rewards work you need to:

  • Be specific about the behaviour you would like to see;
  • Follow through whatever you have agreed with the child;
  • Take small steps that children can achieve more easily: the more children are rewarded, the more they are motivated;
  • Keep it simple: gifts do not need to be expensive;
  • Tackle one behaviour at a time;
  • Involve the child, especially with reward/star charts;
  • Be positive.

By targeting positive behaviour

For a child, attention is a very powerful motivator. A child’s behaviour is reinforced when carers pay attention to it and the positive attention carers give already acts as a reward. However, for some children who have a need for constant adult attention, they will do whatever is necessary to get it. To ignore misbehaviour is one way to manage this but it will not show the child how to behave, so carers need to target the positive behaviour they want to see more of and reward it accordingly.


Benefits of ignoring

  • It is a good alternative to nagging or shouting;
  • Good alternative to nagging or shouting;
  • The child gains no attention when misbehaving;
  • It promotes a good relationship with the child;
  • It can make carers a good role model.

Behaviours to ignore

  • Minor sibling rivalry;
  • Tantrums;
  • Moaning/whining;
  • Silly noises or voices;
  • Complaining;
  • Children crying if unable to get their own way;
  • Pulling faces;
  • Swearing.

Behaviour not to ignore

  • Actions dangerous to themselves or others;
  • Destructiveness;
  • Excessive distress.
Ignoring should never be used as a punishment. Only ignore one or two behaviours, otherwise you will ignore the child for too long.

3.3 Establish Household Rules Which are Consistent – Set Limits

Many looked after children have not had set boundaries for them or, if they have, these have been inconsistent. This means they have missed out on the chance to develop a sense of inner stability and self-control. Carers can provide care, warmth and sensitivity by responding with praise and laying down guidelines to ensure safety and protection for children and to contain their often challenging behaviour.

4. Managing Behaviour Safely

Each foster family needs to develop a ‘safe care policy’ to assist them to care safely for the children who are placed with them. Foster carers will be advised of any possible behavioural issues which can be expected from the child prior to, and during, the placement. ‘Safe caring’ means relating to the child in a way that meets the following requirements:

  • It is safe and respectful to the child;
  • It is safe for the foster carers, in that they do not lay themselves open to misunderstandings or to allegations of abuse;
  • The carer explains the strategies calmly in advance, at a neutral moment, so that the child knows what will happen if they behave in a certain way;
  • The carers make sure the child knows why limits are in place;
  • Discipline is asserted in a calm, rational and consistent way;
  • When a child is displaying particularly difficult behaviour, carers will need to accept support;
  • Carers will need to make records of the behaviours and strategies they put in place;
  • Carers have to be fair about the child’s rights, e.g. if a sanction denies children access to something belonging to them, then this property will need to put it in safe keeping.

Techniques deployed by foster carers will be largely dependent upon the child’s age or developmental stage, alongside individual circumstances. The aim is always to reduce and/or eradicate inappropriate behaviours by responding in a positive and consistent manner.

Occasionally, however, foster carers will need to impose sanctions for unacceptable behaviours. In such circumstances, as well as taking into account the child’s age and developmental stage, foster carers must apply only sanctions that are approved by Blackburn with Darwen.

4.1 Sanctions

Permitted Sanctions

  • Loss of privileges;
  • The use of increased supervision, additional house chores or a curtailment of leisure activities;
  • The appropriation of pocket money or savings to repair damage or for the replacement of loss. Young people must not be deprived of more than two thirds of their total spending money for the week. If pocket money is reduced as a sanction, the reduction must be placed in a savings account for the child;
  • Confiscation of a possession on a temporary basis for a (short set period of time);
  • Confiscation of an article or substance that may cause injury to themselves or others.

Non-permitted Sanctions

  • Punishment or treatment of a child or young person that is humiliating;
  • Using any element of force including smacking, slapping, pinching, shaking, throwing missiles, handling in an inappropriate manner, pushing or responding to violence with violence;
  • Refusing a child or young person a meal or depriving them of food or drink;
  • Withholding any form of medication or medical treatment;
  • Restricting any form of contact with family members (including an independent visitor, advocate, solicitor, social worker, CAFCASS or Ofsted);
  • Using accommodation to physically restrict the liberty of a child;
  • Intentionally depriving a child of sleep;
  • Conducting an intimate physical search. If it is felt that the child or young person has drugs on their person, consideration needs to be given to notifying the police following consultation with the child’s social worker, duty officer or EDT social worker.

4.2 Family Rules

It is easier for children to behave well if they know what is expected from them. Looked After Children may be used to very different standards of behaviour to those that prevail in your family. It is a good idea to draw up family rules and tailor these to each child’s individual needs.

  • Think about things that matter to you and the child;
  • Get the whole family together to discuss and agree on the rules;
  • Make sure rules are clear and brief;
  • Enhance what children should do and what they should not;
  • Only use behaviour that you can observe;
  • Maybe write the rules down.

If children break the rules, explain to them which rule has been broken. In a respectful manner, explain what they should have done and offer praise if a rule has been complied with. Rewarding acceptable behaviour will always be the preferred method and will encourage acceptable conduct and behaviour.

By telling children how their behaviour makes them feel, carers can avoid venting feelings in an angry, negative manner, which is not helpful.

Help children learn from the consequences of their actions

We all learn about the world by observing the things we do – the consequences of our actions.

There are two helpful positive strategies to assist carers when using any form of discipline with children who have misbehaved. These take a non-confrontational approach to avoid shouting, which can make the situation worse.

These strategies only work in the context of having a positive relationship with the child and where an established trusting bond has been formed.

Natural and logical consequences

Natural consequences are occurrences that do not involve the intervention of others, e.g. if children do not eat their lunch, they will feel hungry.

Logical consequences are designed by carers as a suitable consequence for certain behaviour, e.g. if children break a toy, they are encouraged to replace it. Consequences should always be proportionate and occur in a relatively short time scale. Grounding for long periods or addressing misbehaviour too long after the event is more likely to escalate than reduce negative behaviours.

All children need to learn the consequences of behaviour: it enables them to be accountable for what they do and helps them make a link between the behaviour and its consequences.

Time out

Time out from giving positive reinforcement means withdrawing your attention in response to misbehaviour. It is used instead of more negative responses like shouting, blaming and criticising. It provides the time and space for all parties to calm down. It is not an alternative to discussion but an option for talking later without the need for conflict.

Time out should be brief and in a place where there are no distractions but not in a locked room or a child’s bedroom. You simply want to remove positive attention, not frighten the child. Looked after children may be more prone to experience feelings of rejection and isolation and some may have experienced the abuse of confinement.

4.3 De-escalation Techniques

When a child or young person is angry or upset, there is an array of techniques cares can use to avoid the situation becoming worse.

Simply listening

Sometimes all that is needed is to allow an angry child or young person to vent all their anger and frustration to someone who is actually attentive to what they are saying. Do not attempt to say anything. Just listen attentively, nod your head and sometimes give encouragement, such as "Uh huh," "Go on," or "Yes..." When a child or young person is attempting to get attention with their anger, sometimes all you need to do is to listen until their anger is spent. At that point you may ask a simple question such as, "How can I help you?"

Active listening

Active listening is the process of really attempting to hear, acknowledge and understand what the child is saying. It is a genuine attempt to put yourself in the other person's situation as best you can. Active listening means you are attending not only to the words the other person is saying but also the underlying emotion.


Acknowledgement occurs when you can legitimately understand the child’s angry emotion. The carer could then honestly respond with, "Wow, I can see how something like that could cause some anger!" or, ‘If that happened to me, I might be angry, too." The tone of voice is critical in this circumstance. You don't want to use an excitable tone, as it could further incite the angry behaviour: rather, use a calming and respectful tone of voice designed to help the emotion. It confirms the legitimacy of the emotion but not the behaviour. The angry person needs to realise that being angry isn't the problem: the problem is the way they may be acting out some of those angry feelings.


Apologising is the fourth of the de-escalation skills: sincerely apologising for anything in the situation that you believe was unjust. It is simply a statement acknowledging that something occurred that wasn't right.

5. Resources and Training Available for Foster Carers

Training underpins the development of understanding and insight for carers seeking to establish behaviour management strategies for children.

Foster carers receive information about behaviour management in an array of different formats:

  • Within the Skills to Foster preparation course. The course covers areas of child development and looks at children who may have additional needs beyond what would normally be expected for their age and developmental status. In addition, the course looks at separation and loss and strategies and interventions are suggested. Case studies are used to create discussion which talks about safe caring and forming house rules. Consultation with the department’s emotional health service for children in care can be accessed very quickly. Discussions also take place around carers needing to know as much information as possible about the child and their background in order for them to understand the child’s behaviour;
  • Foster carers can access Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s optional one day training course, Positive Parenting where they can learn to understand the influence they, as carers, can have on the feelings, thinking and behaviour of the children they are caring for; and will learn to divert, diffuse and de-escalate situations;
  • Foster carers are able to access different types of attachment training offering strategies for helping children to feel more secure in their attachments to them as carers. These courses help carers to understand why some looked after children behave as they do and enables them to respond appropriately to some of the challenges presented by children who have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma from their main care givers before becoming looked after;
  • The Supervising Social worker through Support visits and Supervision visits together with the social worker for the children they are caring for are able to provide foster carers with the opportunity to discuss any behavioural issues and behaviour management strategies, both in general and specifically;
  • Further on line training and support groups are available to support carers to enable them to develop positive parenting strategies;
  • The psychology service for Blackburn with Darwen, ‘Revive Team’ are able to offer further support to carers and the children they are caring for.

6. Physical Interventions

Physical Intervention refers to direct contact between one person and another or to physical contact related to the use of an aid, such as a protective helmet. Non-restrictive physical interventions cover such areas as touching, obstructing and holding and restrictive physical intervention involves the use of force to restrict movement or mobility or the use of force to disengage from dangerous or harmful physical contact initiated by young people.

6.1 Non-Restrictive Intervention – Permissible by Foster Carers


Normal physical contact – as would be expected between good parents and their children – is expected between foster carers and the children they look after. Although physical contact may, on occasions, be used to assert authority over a child or young person, it is more often an important element of care and parenting.


Holding would discourage children from harming themselves, others or property. Young people may be successfully engaged by a hand placed firmly on the arm or shoulder to reinforce the attempts of foster carers to reason with them or to emphasise the concern felt for them. Carers may also firmly encourage a young person to move away from a situation by placing a hand on the arm or around their shoulders and moving them away.


Obstructing is the use of a carer's physical presence, without touching, to obstruct or restrict a child's movement. An example of obstructing would be to restrict a child's movement around a room or building to prevent him/her from picking up an object to use as a missile.

General advice

Non-restrictive physical interventions should not be used as a matter of routine but only if absolutely necessary to the situation, in order to safeguard the child or another person. Holding should involve no more than a hand placed on an arm or shoulder or leading a child by one or both hands and/or possibly by the flat of one hand placed against a child's back in order to guide him/her to some other place or activity. An example of holding would be its use to avoid external danger, e.g. holding a child's hand while crossing the road.

Children who are looked after have various needs which the adults caring for them should respond to. Those needs will include the need for guidance, personal example, influence, sensitivity and, in some circumstances, control. Foster carers have broadly the same rights and responsibilities as parents have to promote a child's welfare, safeguard a child from negative influences and protect others from harm. It is recognised that foster carers who have day to day care of a child or young person will, from time to time, be required to exercise control in a manner which safeguards and promotes the welfare of the child. There may be circumstances where a child or young person may be at risk of inflicting harm on themselves or on other people, whether intentionally or not. In such circumstances, non-restrictive physical intervention – touching, holding or obstructing – may be necessary. 

Any physical intervention must be justifiable, appropriate to the child's circumstances and enhance safety. It must take account of the physical, emotional and medical needs of each individual young person. Physical interventions should not in any way be used as a substitute for other types of intervention.

Risk assessment and behaviour management will inform any physical intervention and will indicate the necessity for its use. Where this is indicated, foster carers will receive relevant training and information about the management of behaviour, which will emphasise positive approaches and alternatives to the use of physical intervention wherever possible.

Where physical intervention has been necessary, foster carers will make a written record. The child’s social worker and foster carer’s supervising social worker should be informed as soon as possible so that the child can be seen. Children, young people and foster carers will afterwards receive additional support, when required.

6.2 Restrictive Intervention (Restraint) – Not Routinely Permissible by Foster Carers

Restrictive physical intervention is the positive application of force with the intention of protecting a young person from harming him/herself or others or seriously damaging property.

Foster carers are not permitted to use restrictive physical intervention (restraint) unless they have received specialised training. Where it is recognised that a child's behaviour is likely to require the application of restraint, the child should be placed with foster carers only if the carers are appropriately trained and where management of behaviour is discussed and strategies agreed by all parties in advance.

Following any physical intervention, the child and others involved should be given opportunity to see a medical practitioner.

Locking or bolting of doors

It is acceptable to use mechanisms or modifications to a foster home which are necessary for security – e.g. on external exits or windows – so long as this does not restrict children's mobility or ability to leave the premises if it is safe to do so.

It is also acceptable to lock office or storage areas to which a child is not normally expected to gain access.

Time Out / Withdrawal

If used as strategies in a behavioural programme, time out and/or withdrawal must be approved and set out in writing in the foster carer agreement and/or in the behaviour management plans (as part of the placement information record) for an individual child.

In those circumstances, time out involves restricting a child’s access to all reinforcements as part of a behavioural programme. Withdrawal involves removing a child – from a situation which places the child or others at risk of injury or to prevent damage to property – to a location where s/he can be continuously observed or supervised until ready to resume usual activities.