Positive Relationships and Behaviour Management

1. Introduction

This chapter provides guidance for carers on managing behaviour, which includes supporting positive behaviour, de-escalation of conflicts and discipline.

Children learn how to behave by watching, listening and talking to the adults who care for them. Children develop their morals and values from what they observe of how adults treat others.

Children need clear boundaries and consistent rules. You should have high aspirations of a child/young person placed with you and be clear about what is acceptable and not.

You are expected to understand, manage and deal with children and young people's behaviour including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict.

It is important that you as the foster carer follow a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and in supporting children and young people. As a foster carer you cannot and should not be expected to manage what can be very challenging behaviour in isolation in the absence of guidance and a shared understanding and agreement with regards to the strategies of support available.

The Fostering Service should gain and share a robust assessment of need that determines the approach to be taken and that the placement should be a good match with you and your family. The referral information, Placement Plan and reviews are central to the ongoing planning and evaluation of the support in relation to behaviour. The Fostering Service should ensure that, in relation to any child placed or to be placed with you as a foster carer, you are given such information, which is kept up to date, as to enable you to provide appropriate care for the child, and in particular you should be provided with a copy of the most recent version of the child's care plan. You should have all the necessary information available to the Fostering Service about a child's circumstances, including any significant recent events, to help you understand and predict the child's needs and behaviours and support the child within your household. The Fostering Service should follow up with the responsible authority where all such necessary information has not been provided by the authority.

When your foster child is new to your home they will not know or understand your rules unless you explain them. You will need to be mindful of the child's background and early life experiences when setting boundaries and expectations. The safer caring plan should be in place which the child should be aware of.

It is important that the child is treated consistently by everyone who is dealing with them, particularly when there are two carers.

As the foster carer your role is to:

  • Aim to create a safe, caring environment;
  • Ensure that all children have opportunities to become confident and achieve their full potential;
  • Encourage the child's consultation and participation in setting rules and consequences;
  • Ensure that all children and young people live in homes where they have clear expectations in relation to their behaviour, are supported to understand and to develop alternative positive approaches to challenges within their lives;
  • Ensure that all children and young people understand how positive behaviour is recognised and rewarded;
  • Ensure that all children and young people are supported to understand the consequences of negative behaviour;
  • Ensure that you understand and share the principles of positive approaches to behaviour;
  • Accept the individuality of children and young people and celebrate the diversity of their backgrounds.

2. Positive Behaviour Support

You play an important part in the day-to-day life of a child, therefore good parenting, supported by training on behaviour management techniques and strategies, will enable you 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.

Positive behaviour support is about everyone playing their part in the child's care and support and it should be a multi-disciplinary approach.

Things that need to be in place to support a positive behaviour approach:

You should provide an environment and culture that promotes, models and supports positive behaviour. The culture of the household, generated by you as the foster carer, is crucial. You should have high expectations of all of the foster children in your household.

Children must be enabled to build trusted and secure relationships with you and your family, who know them well, listen to them, spend time with them, protect them and promote their welfare. Children must be enabled to develop an appropriate sense of permanence and belonging and be fully included in your family life.

The care and help from you assists children and young people placed with you to develop a positive self-view and to increase their ability to form and sustain attachments and build emotional resilience and a sense of their own identity. This care and help also help them to overcome any previous experiences of neglect and trauma.

You will be, and should feel, well prepared and supported by the Fostering Service to manage the behaviour of children and young people placed with you and situations arising from and leading to this behaviour.

You are expected to understand, manage and deal with children's behaviour including encouraging them to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict. You should have positive strategies for effectively supporting children where they encounter discrimination or bullying wherever this occurs, such as discussing the issue, counteracting the negativity and how to manage it, whether to involve others and when.

Children should be supported to develop and practice skills to build and maintain positive relationships, be assertive and to resolve conflicts positively. Children are encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour in a way that is appropriate to their age and abilities. You should respect the child's privacy and confidentiality, in a manner that is consistent with good parenting.

You should receive training in positive care and control of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes.

You will have clear, consistent and fair boundaries, to enable children to feel safe, encouraged and appropriately rewarded, to help ensure that they will thrive and do well and to contribute to a feeling of well-being and security for children.

As a foster carer you should think about the following in your practice:

  • Listen to and empathise with children, respect their thoughts and feelings and take their wishes into consideration;
  • Look for things that are going well, or any step in the right direction, and appropriately reward it;
  • Use rewards in a creative and diverse way, specific to children's needs, capabilities and interests. This may mean that children are rewarded with activities or rewards that they enjoy. But all 'tangible' rewards should be accompanied by use of 'non tangible' encouragement and support – by you demonstrating to children that they have done well. Such 'non tangible' rewards include smiling and praising children;
  • Make sure that children and young people are aware of the things that they have done well. This should involve prompt verbal feedback, along with clear recording in the child or young person’s file. All ‘tangible’ rewards should be clearly identified.

Children usually benefit, early on, from rewards which may appear to outweigh that which is expected. This is normal; over time rewards can be more relevant as children's self-esteem and skills improve.

For example:

  • Children who have few social or life skills and whose self-esteem and confidence is low may require forms of encouragement and reward which are intensive, frequent or even excessive in order to help/remind them that they are doing well and appreciated;
  • A child who has previously been unable to get up for school may be offered an incentive for getting up on time for a few days.

Over time, as children achieve what is expected, such rewards should be reduced or children should be expected to achieve more for the same or a similar reward.

The PACE model can help you work successfully with a child.

PACE stands for:

Caption: The PACE model
Playfulness Using a light-hearted, reassuring tone – similar to parent-infant interactions – to creating an atmosphere of safety and reassurance where no one feels judged and your child feels able to cope with positive feelings.
Acceptance Acceptance is about actively communicating that you accept the feelings, thoughts and internal struggles that are underneath the child's outward behaviour. It is not about accepting the behaviour itself but helping to teach the child to not feel ashamed by their inner turmoil.
Curiosity Curiosity, without judgement, is how we help children become aware of their inner life. It's about wondering out loud without necessarily expecting an answer in return. Phrases like "I wonder if"…" will help the child to put a name to their emotions and thoughts.
Empathy Feeling a child's sadness of distress with them, being emotionally available to them during times of difficulty shows the child that they are not alone and that the adult are strong enough to support them both through it.

(Sometimes 'L' for Love is included, making PLACE).

3. Minimum House Rules

You should have house rules, setting out your expectations for how things are managed within the home. This should be explained to children, with the reasons for the rules and they should also know that that there are rules for everyone. They should not feel that they are being treated with less regard than other members of the household. Ideally children should know these expectations before they are placed.

These house rules should be recorded on the placement plan and in the safe caring document.

4. Managing Challenging Behaviour and De-escalation of Conflicts

You will receive training in positive care and support of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes.

Conflict management should be used effectively and include the appropriate use of restorative practices that improve relationships, increase children's sense of personal responsibility and reduce the need for formal police intervention. This approach to care is designed to minimise the need for police involvement to deal with challenging behaviour and avoid criminalising children unnecessarily. Proactive and effective working relationships with the police help to support and protect children.

Children should be encouraged and helped to develop skills and strategies to manage their own conflicts and difficult feelings through developing positive relationships with you. There should be clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries for children.

Children should receive help to manage their behaviour and feelings safely. You should respond with clear boundaries about what is safe and acceptable and seek to understand the triggers for behaviour.

Positive behaviour should be promoted consistently. You should use effective de-escalation techniques and creative alternative strategies that are specific to the needs of each child and planned in consultation with them where possible.

You will receive support on how to manage your responses and feelings arising from caring for children, particularly where children display very challenging behaviour, and understand how children's previous experiences can manifest in challenging behaviour.

Difficult or challenging behaviour in children can occur for a number of reasons, for example:

  • As a way of expressing emotions;
  • As a result of developmental delays or learning disability;
  • As a result of attachment/relationship difficulties;
  • Learned behaviours in which challenging responses have become habit in the face of frustration or anxiety.

It is important that you have information about the child or young person's history and can understand the causes of the child's behaviour and provide the child with help and support.

When working with, or caring for, children with challenging behaviour it is useful to bear in mind the following:

  • The age and emotional maturity of the child, including understanding of behaviours;
  • That the aim of any positive behaviour management is to help the child learn how to behave more appropriately and not to punish or to purely keep the child under control;
  • Challenging or undesirable behaviour should not result in emotional distance between the child and you;
  • No matter how difficult or challenging a child's behaviour, you should never resort to similar behaviour;
  • The more you are able to understand a child's behaviour and are able to meet their needs in a consistent manner, the less likely they are to encounter difficulties with control.

Children need clear boundaries and to know what is expected of them to keep everyone safe.

The key points of a positive behaviour approach are:

  • The ground rules are discussed with the child and their family/carers so that their views can be taken into account;
  • You should be honest about any non-negotiable issues, such as smoking on the premises;
  • Rules need to be realistic and ideally phrased as a "do" rather than a "do not";
  • Children may need to be reminded from time to time of the expectations we have regarding their behaviour and of why we have rules;
  • When children or young people are stressed and upset they can display strong emotions such as anger, distress and frustration. Acknowledging that a child's feeling are legitimate but look with the child at how the situation can be managed in a different way.

It is important to consider that a child may have disabilities that affect their behaviour, social skills, communication and understanding so require extra help with behaviour management.

It is important to work with the multi-disciplinary team to work out a positive approach to supporting the child or young person with their behaviours. This plan should be followed by all to ensure that the child or young person receives consistent messages around what is expected. Ongoing support around behaviours may be needed to keep the child or young person safe and healthy.

5. Dealing with Unacceptable Behaviour

5.1 Guidance

Sometimes children present behaviours that are difficult. Because of their experiences some behaviours can be worrying, confusing, upsetting and challenging.

Any action that constitutes a sanction should be proportionate, measured, not harsh and logical. Sanctions should be the last resort. They must work for the child or young person and be child-focused.

You should work from a therapeutic or PACE framework to support the child or young person.

Repetition of the rules, humour and clear messages can avoid sanctions being needed.

For a child or young person of an appropriate age, it is important to discuss what they think is an appropriate and fair restriction such as not using their games console for a night, not going out with a friend etc.

As a carer it is important to discuss what sanctions you are using with others and get support from professionals around this such as the supervising social worker, the child's social worker or a CAMHS worker.

5.2 Non Approved Sanctions

The following sanctions are non-approved, which means they may never be imposed upon children:

  • Any form of corporal punishment; i.e. any intentional application of force as punishment, including slapping, punching, rough handling and throwing missiles;
  • Any measure of control, restraint or discipline which is excessive or unreasonable. Restraint is used on a child only where it is necessary to prevent injury to the child or other persons, or serious damage to property. See also: Restrictive Physical Intervention and Restraint Procedure;
  • Any sanction relating to the consumption or deprivation of food or drink;
  • Any restriction on a child's contact with their parents, relatives or friends; visits to the child by their parents, relatives or friends; a child's communications with any of the persons listed below; or their access to any telephone helpline providing counselling or advice for children. This does not prevent contact or communication being restricted in exceptional circumstances, where it is necessary to do so to protect the child or others:
    • Any officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service appointed for the child;
    • Any social worker for the time being assigned to the child by his placing authority;
    • Any Independent Visitor;
    • Any person authorised by the Regulatory Authority.
  • Any requirement that a child wear distinctive or inappropriate clothes;
  • The use or withholding of medication or medical or dental treatment;
  • The intentional deprivation of sleep;
  • The modification of a child's behaviour through bribery or the use of threats;
  • Any sanction which may humiliate a child or could cause them to be ridiculed;
  • The imposition of any fine or financial penalty, other than a requirement for the payment of a reasonable sum by way of reparation (The court may impose fines upon children which you should encourage and support them to repay);
  • Any intimate physical examination of a child;
  • The withholding of aids/equipment needed by a disabled child;
  • Any measure which involves a child in the imposition of any measure against any other child; or the sanction of a group of children for the behaviour of an individual child;
  • Swearing at the child or the use of foul, demeaning or humiliating language or measures.

5.3 Sanctions

Sanctions should be proportionate and work with the child or young person.

These should be recorded and agreed with other professionals.

  • Confiscation or withdrawal of a telephone or mobile phone in order to protect a child or another person from harm, injury or to protect property from being damaged;
  • Restriction on sending or receiving letters or other correspondence (including the use of electronic or internet correspondence) in order to protect a child or another person from harm, injury or to protect property from being damaged;
  • Reparation, involving the child doing something to put right the wrong they have done; e.g. repairing damage or returning stolen property;
  • Restitution, involving the child paying for all or part of damage caused or the replacement of misappropriated monies or goods. No more than two thirds of a child's pocket money may be taken in these circumstances if the payment is small and withdrawn in a single weekly amount. Larger amounts may be paid in restitution but must be of a fixed amount with a clear start and end period. If the damage is serious or the size of payment particularly large then the child's social worker should be informed of the matter;
  • Curtailment of leisure activities, involving a child being prevented from participating in such activities;
  • Early bedtimes, by up to half an hour or as agreed with the child's social worker;
  • Removal of equipment, for example the use of a TV or DVD player;
  • Loss of privileges, for example the withdrawal of the privilege of staying up late;
  • Suspension of pocket money for short periods.

5.4 Recording of Sanctions

All sanctions should be recorded. The record should contain the opinions of the child or young person. If they are not willing to give an opinion then the record should evidence the time and date that their opinion was sought.

6. Searching

You are not permitted to conduct body searches, pat down searches, searches of clothing worn by children or of their bedrooms.

Should you suspect that a child is carrying or has concealed an item which may place the child or another person at risk, you should try to obtain the item by co-operation/negotiation.

If you suspect that a child is concealing an item which may place themselves or another person at risk, you must notify the Fostering Service or, in an emergency, the Police.

7. Serious Incidents and Use of Physical Intervention

In the event of any serious incident (e.g. accident, violence or assault, damage to property), you should take what actions you deem to be necessary to protect children/yourself from immediate harm or injury; and then notify the Agency immediately.

If there is a risk of serious injury/harm or damage to property, you should not use any form of physical intervention except as a last resort to prevent yourself or others from being injured or to prevent serious damage to property. If any form of physical intervention is used, it must be the least intrusive necessary to protect the child, yourself or others. See also: Restrictive Physical Intervention and Restraint Procedure.

At no time should you act unless they are confident of managing the situation safely, without escalation or further injury.

The Fostering Service will endeavour to deal with as many as possible of the challenges that are involved in caring for children without recourse to the involvement of the police, who should only be involved in two circumstances:

  • An emergency necessitating their immediate involvement to protect the child or others;
  • Following discussion with the Supervising Social Worker, fostering manager, or the fostering Agency Out of Hours.

If any serious incident occurs or the police are called, the Supervising Social Worker, fostering manager or the Fostering Service Out of Hours (if out of office hours) must be notified without delay and will then notify the relevant social worker(s) and arrange for a full report to be made of the incident and actions taken. The Regulatory Authority must also be notified.