Background of NATP and Underpinning Research
In 2015, Sarah Naish (founding member of the NATP), commissioned research by the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Parent Studies, (Dr. Heather Ottaway and Professor Julie Selwyn), to produce the first-ever national study* of Compassion Fatigue in foster parents in England, entitled “No-one told us it was going to be like this”.
Sarah commissioned the research as she had significant personal and professional experience within the sector and had become concerned that the scale of the problem was largely ignored and ending children’s placements prematurely.
The research found that over 75% of foster parents had suffered some level of burnout.
The research was presented to the central government as part of the Fostering Inquiry, and the first two pieces of evidence published related to this research. The research team was asked to give evidence to the Commons Select Committee.
Compassion Fatigue is described in this study as “a physical and emotional response to the stress of caring for those who have experienced trauma”. The research clearly links the provision of appropriate support to increased ability to parent in a compassionate and therapeutic manner, and an increased ability to maintain the mindful stance towards the child that enables an empathic and nurturing response.
The research found that carers reported feelings of isolation, becoming detached emotionally “just to get through each day” and an inability to manage more than the child’s most basic needs. It was also reported that Social Workers were felt to have little or no understanding of the reality of the challenges faced on a day to day basis, and that blaming and judgemental stances adopted by professionals were further damaging the confidence of Therapeutic Parents and their ability to maintain a meaningful connection to the child.
One of the essential factors to reduce symptoms and maintain placements were found to be peer support groups. Although these are often provided by IFAs and local social services, the actual support offered by these groups was felt to be inadequate by a large number of parents taking part in the research.
Dr. Heather Ottaway
“Carers need a safe and non-judgmental space to talk through concerns, where their expertise is recognized,” said lead researcher Dr. Heather Ottaway. “To reduce symptoms of compassion fatigue they also need access to respite which is creative and flexible and takes account of children’s needs resulting from trauma.”
Dr. John Simmonds OBE, (CoramBAAF)
“This research uniquely demonstrates the serious cost to foster carers of the role they take on. That should not be surprising, but it has played little part in what we have come to see as central to the support they need as their commitment to care for a child is confronted by the impact of various forms of abuse and neglect on the child’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. The role of the foster carer could not be more important. They are the lifeblood for the child 24/7.”
Furthermore, work carried out in training workshops throughout the U.K by Fostering Attachments Ltd, identified that large groups of parents caring for traumatised children, were receiving no support whatsoever. IE Some special guardians, step-parents, and biological parents.
The NATP helps to reduce and interrupt compassion fatigue in carers by the establishment of ‘Listening Circles’, thereby improving outcomes for children.