Introduction to attachment and foster care | Joe Nee

Expert in attachment theory Joe Nee highlights some of the impact a child’s attachment experience can have on them and their foster families.

As children develop, from conception to adulthood, they need support from those responsible for protecting them during this journey.

When going through the various stages in this developmental process their experience of attachment plays a crucial role.

This continues throughout the young person’s development, from absolute dependence, to independence and autonomy as an adult.

And the different needs of children at each stage demand differing responses from those charged with their care.

Each develops at their own pace — from being unable to let their main carer out of their sight to the ‘terrible twos’, ‘sibling rivalry’ the ‘lazy teenager’ and so on.

Studying how a child attaches to their parents/carers helps us understand how this process is affected by the nature and quality of our early experiences.

This is particularly true of children who have experienced early trauma and/or neglect.

All children need to develop a secure emotional attachment to their parents or their primary/main carer at an early stage.

Stressed young mother sitting on her sofa whilst feeding her baby son. She has her head in her hand and is surrounded by mess

Young people may seem ‘unable’ to learn, or understand consequences, behaving in ways that seem to guarantee they won’t get what they want.

They may even feel responsible for their problems and those of their parents, believing themselves to be ‘bad’ or deserving of punishment.

The quality of the attachment relationship a child develops with their key caregiver is a good indicator of their ability to cope and adapt.

And as the child grows, this relationship means they continue to view this caregiver as a potential source of comfort in any stressful situations.

Unfortunately, this can continue to be the case even if the caregiver proves to be abusive, neglectful, fails to protect them, or their life seems to be in chaos.

For foster parents, this can clearly prove a challenge, as the child seeks comfort and approval from whichever caregiver to whom they have been attached.

The effects of attachment on foster parents

Attachment relationships are a biological inevitability, designed to ensure a child’s protection and survival.

But a child or young person’s ability to attach and form a bond with a caregiver often depends on the type of care they received from others earlier in their life.

It’s important that foster parents get appropriate support to promote healthy attachments for the children and young they care for in their family.

And where young people are removed from birth parents permanently, it’s vital that the appropriate matching and training takes place.

Foster parents looking after children who have disorganised or extremely anxious attachments can experience similar emotional upheaval.

Of course, fostering can be challenging at any time — but the stress involved in caring for some children can have a serious impact on the placement success.

In such situations, support from social and/or professional networks is typically a major factor in alleviating carer stress.

Particularly important is access to timely and effective support from social workers and other professionals.

Research has shown that the absence of this can exacerbate the strain on carers and their families.

Meeting a young person’s needs

Some younger children with a history of maltreatment can respond quickly to changes in their emotional environments, forming secure attachments to carers.

But research and experience tells us that this will not always be the case with certain children.

Some appear to resist support, continue to distrust adults and seem unable to seek care or comfort when distressed.

In these cases, if foster parents wait for a ‘signal’ or sign from a child to provide care, the young person’s needs may remain completely unmet.

We know that looked after children benefit greatly if they can develop secure attachments with their caregivers.

To enable this for those with attachment or trauma issues, foster parents can aim to engage with them at their emotional age (rather than chronological).

In order to ensure that young people with attachment issues are cared for most effectively during foster placements, several measures can help:

  • Capacity of prospective carers to recognise/tolerate difficult behaviour and remain sensitive/responsive to a child’s needs should be evaluated
  • Regular training and support to ensure carers can reflect on a child’s behaviour with reference to their needs rather than react immediately to their behaviour
  • Carer access to reflective space and non-judgmental listening to promote sensitive, responsive care and alleviate the strain on all concerned

Mother and teenage daughter having an argument

Any professionals, including foster parents, who are asked to care for or work with looked after children should have basic but specific training.

This should concern the impact of early attachment issues and trauma on those children.

And the support available should be proactive — not crisis driven or occurring only when stress levels are unacceptable.

Attachment and teenagers

A young person may appear to be settled, happy and thriving in a foster family environment.

But one of the triggers that can disrupt the situation for all concerned can be the onset of puberty.

The stresses and confusion for a young person during this time and their teenage years, can pose problems in terms of changing behaviour.

Another potential influential factor is young people’s vulnerability to harmful external influences.

A teen’s early experiences of mistrust, inappropriate attachment and confusion about relationships can make them an obvious target.

The potential threat of controlling relationships, sexual exploitation or gang associations increase for those with an inability to manage social relationships.

Learn more about attachment

Understanding the impact of attachment and how it can affect the fostering experience for young people and carers is important.

Find out more about the available training and support available by using the bibliography below, contacting NFA or see further resources on attachment from the Fostering Network.

About the author

Joe Nee is an independent psychology professional with extensive experience in the education and child protection sectors.

He has worked with local authorities, government departments, the police, prisons and voluntary organisations throughout the UK.

As a renowned authority on child protection, families, fostering and adoption, his expertise as a consultant is both insightful and invaluable.


  • Dozier M, Albus K and Bates B (2001) Attachment for infants in foster care: the role of caregiver state of mind, Child Development, 72, 1467-1477
  • Dozier M, Peloso E, Lewis E, Laurenceau J P and Levine S (2008) Effects of an attachment-based intervention on the cortisol production of infants and toddlers in foster care, Dev Psychopathology, 20, 845-859
  • Fonagy,P. and Target, M. (2002) Early Intervention and the Development of Self Regulation. Psychoanalytic Inquiry. V 22,Issue 3
  • Furnival, J. Practice with looked after children and young people IRISS Insights no.10. May 2010
  • Hughes, Dan (2006) Building the Bonds of Attachment
  • Holmes, J (2001) The Search for the Secure Base: Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy. Routledge
  • Hosking G and Walsh I (2005) Wave Report 2005: Violence and what to do about it, Croydon Wave Trust
  • Kochanska G, Barry RA, Stellern SA and O’Bleness JJ (2009) Early Attachment Organization Moderates the Parent Child Mutually Coercive Pathway to Children’s Antisocial Conduct, Child Development, 80, 1288-1300
  • Millward R, Kennedy E, Towlson K and Minnis H (2006) Reactive attachment disorder in looked-after children Emotional & Behavioural Difficulties, 11(4)
  • Steele M (2006) The ‘added value’ of attachment theory and research for clinical work in adoption and foster care, in J Kenrick (ed) Creating New Families Therapeutic approaches to fostering adoption and kinship care, London: Karnac Books
  • WilPerry B and Hambrick E (2008) The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, Reclaiming children and youth,17(3)
  • son K (2006) Can foster carers help children resolve their emotional and behavioural difficulties? Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 11(4), 495-511
  • Zeanah C (2001) Evaluation of a preventive intervention for maltreated infants and toddlers in foster care, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(2), 214-221

The Finances of Fostering

At Alpha Plus we understand that fostering is a huge commitment to make for your family and it may mean you leaving full time employment to enable you to give the time needed to support the child placed with you. This is why we pay generous weekly allowances, to help you with the usual expenses of caring for a child and also in the way of an income to compensate for your hard work and dedication in providing a child with a stable family environment.


How much is the fostering allowance and what is it for?

We pay a generous weekly allowance to reflect how much we value our carers and the children they care for. We believe it is important for the children to have a good quality of life and wherever possible the same opportunities and experiences as other children in your family.

As well as including a professional fee for you, the allowance is intended to cover all the needs of the children in your care including food, clothing, travel, hobbies and sports, family activities, savings and more. We will provide guidance on how you can best spend the money so that a child has a healthy, happy and balanced life but we also want you to have the freedom to use the money to support that child in joining in with your normal family life. We therefore won’t dictate to you about what you spend for birthdays, Christmas and holidays as we know that your family will have their own priorities. We want you to be able to treat a looked after child the same as you would your own children.


The minimum weekly fees payable are:

Single placement                                            £400.78 per week

Sibling placement                                            £365.73 per week/per child

Mother and baby                                             £597.62 per week

These fees are reviewed annually. The fees may differ for an experienced transferring carer.

It is important to note, this amount is only paid when you have a child in your care, not when you are between placements. We are unable to guarantee a placement at all times so there may be gaps when you do not have a child living with your and therefore times when no allowance is payable.


Self Employment and other benefits

As a foster carer you are classed as self-employed for tax and national insurance purposes, so you need to register with HMRC. You may also be able to claim a range of benefits.

Once you are approved you will be given a starter pack with advice on how to go about registering as self employed. You can also gain further support and advice from The Fostering Network. As an approved carer with Alpha Plus you will be entitled to free membership with them and you can visit their website at

As a Foster carer you will be approved rather than employed by us, and this status has a particular effect on means-tested benefits. In the main fostering allowances, when a child is placed with a foster carer, are disregarded when calculating welfare benefits.  Alternatively, foster carers may be able to claim Working Tax Credit because fostering is regarded as ‘work’ by HMRC when they have a child in placement. You will need to contact your local benefits office and relevant agencies to discuss your individual circumstances.


Will I be taxed on the allowance?

In general foster carers are exempt from paying tax on the fostering allowance. The exception to this rule would be if you have a number of children living in your care or additional paid employment that would then give you a financial income above the current government guidelines.

To find out more about fostering finances you can visit or call the newly self employed helpline on 0300 200 3500


A fostering allowance example

If you have one child in placement for 52 weeks of the year you will receive a minimum of £20,840 total per year

If you have 2 siblings in placement for 52 weeks of the year, as an example you will receive a minimum £38,035 Total per year

It is also worth noting that higher allowances may be payable to ensure the cost of any additional needs a child might have will be accounted for. For example, autism, disability or specialist behaviours.


Dr. Kershaw’s Hospice Colour Blast Run!!

Alpha Plus Colour Blast

On Sunday 23rd September Alpha Plus Fostering took part in one of the most colourful events of the year – Dr Kershaw’s Hospice Colour Blast Run!! The team of ten ran (or walked) around Alexandra Park on Sunday, while being blasted with colourful powdered paint.

Dr Kershaw’s Hospice provides specialist palliative care for adults with non-curable, life-limiting illnesses in a peaceful and homely environment. Palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. It’s appropriate for patients at all stages of illness and the hospice serves a population of around 220,000 people drawn from Oldham and surrounding districts.

Upon arrival, music was booming with performers and the crowd singing ‘This Is Me’ at the top of their lungs, bouncy castles and a giant slide drew attention, and the crowds of people were enjoying the entertainment from the stage.

With excitement building in the air, the paint packs had been cracked open and thrown around – people wore wigs, fairy wings and the common favourite; tutus, whilst throwing colourful powder over the heads of those they knew and even those they didn’t! It was particularly fun to turn our Registered Manager, Gill into a blue smurf!

Gill - Colourblast

Before the running shoes were put to work, a group warm-up took place by the stage, where everyone danced to the incredibly well-known, social media frenzy song, ‘Baby Shark’. We might not be the best dancers but we certainly gave it our all.

Then, finally, it was time to get sweaty and covered in paint!! The course consisted of two laps around a quarter of the park, with colour stations distributed evenly around. Thankfully the weather turned out for us and the sky was clear, so it was an enjoyable experience throughout! What a brilliant day we had and for a fantastic cause!

Paint Throwing - Colourblast

For more information and to see how you can get involved with this charity, visit

What an INCREDIBLE summer we had!!

This summer we have been blessed with fantastic weather which has allowed us to have a lot of fun with our fostering families and most importantly the children.

Our support worker Linda was extremely busy planning events for everyone to join in and our foster carers came along with their foster children and birth children to get to know other fostering families, to support each other and to most importantly have lots of fun!

Alpha Plus Crocky Trail

We kicked off our summer events at Crocky Trail (, outdoor adventure playground in Cheshire.  The fun started the moment we arrived, with all the rides, the trail and the challenges! As you can see from the photos even our fantastic social workers joined in on the huge slides and we all enjoyed the mile-long walk as you run along the famous trail scrambling through trees, climbing over crooked bridges and swinging a stream!

Alpha Plus Crocky Trail 2

The following week we ventured to the beach at St Anne’s Beach, Lytham. The weather was not as sunny as we would have really liked but we had a great day anyway! We had a picnic on the beach, played rounders and even buried a few children in the sand!

Alpha Plus Beach Day

This was a great day for the children to run free in the fresh air, being creative and having fun while the adults sat chatting and some even joined in with building sandcastles.

Alpha Plus Beach Day 2

Our next adventure took us to Scotsmans Flash

Scotsman Flash 1( in Wigan where we took the children kayaking!  We all got very wet and so much fun was had by all. Our Social workers, Helen and Cat headed up two teams in two boats and they played games in the water against each other. We had a brilliant instructor who helped the children to have lots of fun. We also went swimming in the lake afterwards.  Later in the day we moved on to Haigh Woodland Park ( for a game of adventure golf and more fun on dry land! A fantastic day was had by all.

Scotsmans Flash 2

Such a fun packed summer and we are sorry it is over but we know the children have made incredible memories and have had the opportunity to have adventures and learn new skills. Our carers got to spend quality time with each other as a team and the staff even let there hair down and joined in. We can’t wait to see what Linda has in store for the next school holidays!




Fostering information event aims to bust myths!

Fostering a child can be one of the most amazing, rewarding and wonderful things you will ever do. However, some people rule themselves out because of common myths about what makes someone eligible to be a foster carer.

Alpha Plus Fostering, an independent fostering agency, currently has a ‘huge need’ to recruit more carers in Lancashire.

To help dispel some of the common misconceptions, they are holding an information event in Bamber Bridge on Saturday, September 15.

There will be a presentation with general information before visitors will have the chance to speak to experienced foster carers, social workers and support workers. Information booths will provide details on specific areas, including fostering siblings and financial support.

Alpha Plus - Our Foster Carers Graham and Anne-Marie

Graham and Anne-Marie Whittle have been fostering with Alpha Plus for six years but initially worried they wouldn’t be accepted.

“We felt that as we had not had children of our own we would not be suitable as foster parents,” said the couple, who are now 61 and 53 years old.

“But due to our other life skills and professional experience Alpha Plus were happy we had the right skills.

“If we had known how rewarding the experience was we would have become foster carers a lot earlier in life.”


So, what are some of the common myths surrounding fostering?

Myth 1 – ‘I’m too old to foster’

You do need to be over 21 to be a carer but there is no upper age limit.

Myth 2 – ‘I can’t afford to foster’

You do not need lots of money to foster. Foster children don’t need financially rich carers. You also receive an allowance if you choose to foster full time.

Myth 3 – ‘Renting rules me out’

Not owning your own home doesn’t mean you can’t foster but your landlord will need to provide the agency with permission. You must also have a spare bedroom.

Myth 4 – ‘Being single means I can’t be a foster carer’

Foster carers don’t need to be in relationships. In fact, agencies welcome applications from single people.

Myth 5 – ‘I don’t have the right qualifications’

No qualifications are required to become a foster carer, just some experience with and understanding of children.

Myth 6 – ‘I’m ruled out because English is my second language’

You must speak fluent English but it doesn’t have to be your first language. You also need to be a British citizen or have permanent leave to stay in the UK.

Children's Rainbow

Lancashire County Council is currently Alpha Plus’ biggest referring local authority. In the first half of 2018 it referred an average of 71 children per month to the agency. That is 71 vulnerable children looking for a safe place in Lancashire where they can live a normal, stable family life.

Alpha Plus Fostering’s information event is being held from 11am to 2pm on Saturday, September 15, at Valley Church Coffee Shop, Fourfields, Bamber Bridge.

To book your place visit

Anyone who is interested in fostering but is unable to make the event can visit  and ask carer engagement officer Nicky to send an information pack or arrange an informal call.

Fostering children with additional needs

More than 65,000 children live with foster families in the UK each day. Each of those families provides a fostered child or group of children with a loving stable home which will help them to learn and grow and increase their chances of successfully transitioning into adulthood.

Across the UK, every 20 minutes a child or young person comes into care needing a foster family. Many of them have had a very difficult start in life and for some this is compounded by having special educational needs. One of the greatest challenges facing this particular group with additional needs is recruiting more foster carers with the skills and experience to help positively transform their lives.

At Alpha Plus Fostering we work with families who care for children with special educational needs, offering training and support to help them provide the best environment for young people. We want to be able to give these children the very best possible home environment to help them to thrive and be happy.

One of our carers Theresa specialises in helping children with additional needs and specifically autistic children who need specialist care at every stage of their development.


Here is Theresa’s story

Having fostered for eight years, Theresa Owen has provided a safe home for several young people. Theresa currently looks after two autistic children, a brother and sister aged seven and five, and they have made remarkable progress in her care.

After caring for her niece, who has special needs, from a young age, Theresa requested that she be considered as a carer for children with learning disabilities by Alpha Plus. The two siblings were the first autistic children Theresa has cared for and acquiring the skills to take care of them has been challenging and rewarding experience.

“It is so fulfilling to see them overcome challenges. Their smiles and delight when they do something new is amazing – if gets me emotional”, Theresa says, adding “Alpha Plus have been amazing; you can contact them at any time on their 24 hour hotline and their team will do anything to help. I requested specialist training when I put myself forward as a carer for autistic children and they were happy to provide it.”


Theresa is doing an incredible job with the children in her care; they continue to make huge amounts of progress, they are settled in school, are communicating at a higher level that was ever believed possible and their laughter fills whichever room they are in. Theresa was recently awarded one of our Every Day Heroes award for the incredible commitment she has shown to these two children. She is a credit to Alpha Plus!


If you want to find out more about fostering children with additional needs then call Nicky for an informal chat on Freephone 08082849211

The Role of a Foster Carer

What does the day to day role of a foster carer include?

As a foster carer with Alpha Plus, you are working with a team of people to improve the well-being of children living with you. These people include social workers, health professionals, school staff, therapists, birth families and other foster carers.

Your day to day responsibilities include:

  • Providing a safe, comfortable home
  • Giving the child or young person time and attention
  • Including them in family activities such as days out and holidays
  • Encouraging hobbies, interests and social interactions
  • Providing a healthy lifestyle and nutritional meals
  • Encouraging their learning and achievement in schools
  • Following the child’s care plan
  • Participating in regular training
  • Being available for planned and unforeseen meetings and events
  • Working with the child’s birth family
  • Recording information on the child or young person’s progress
  • Keeping information confidential

It is important when considering fostering to remember the impact this will have on the wider family network, especially any birth children, who will now need to share the love and attention of their parents with another child.

Looking after someone else’s child is not the same as looking after a birth child. In all likeliness the environment which these children have come from will be vastly different to the one you will be providing. Children in care will often exhibit behaviours – which many foster carers may not have encountered before – as a way of coping with the changes they face. As such it is important for the protection of the child, the carer and their family, that a daily log is kept which details the events occurring throughout the day. This is then regularly reviewed by the Supervising Social Worker and any issues are discussed.

There will be several meetings about the welfare of the child which will require your attendance. It will be your responsibility alongside our Educational Support Officer to ensure the child attends school on a regular basis and you will have to attend school meetings to discuss the child’s progress. You will also be responsible for the overall health and wellbeing of the child.

In many instances it will be the right thing for the foster child to have contact with their own family. If this is the case we will need you to help maintain this contact for as long as it is deemed suitable. You may find that feelings arise about the child’s family but these should be put to one side in the interest of the child.


Why do children need Foster Carers?

Foster Carers can provide a safe a secure home for single children, sibling groups and for children with additional needs and/or disabilities. This can be for a short period of up to two years, over many years until they reach adulthood or on a respite basis to allow a parent or carer a break.


Children who are unable to live with their own family and need to be ‘looked after’ will exhibit a range of emotions and behaviours that may be difficult to understand or deal with. The role of a foster carer is to learn to understand and to work with these difficult emotions and behaviour and to help the children work through them and begin to build a healthier, happier future for themselves.


Alpha Plus Fostering is confident in finding carers who are patient and understanding of each child’s individual needs and are committed to working alongside them to ensure the best experience for any child who is placed with us.


There are many reasons why a child might be taken into care. Our children have more than likely experienced some sort of trauma in their short lives.


Children who cannot live within their own family for whatever reason will experience a level of anguish by needing to be looked after elsewhere. Many children will also have experienced abuse, physically, emotionally or sexually and possibly have had their needs neglected for some time. They may exhibit behaviours that reflect the disruption and uncertainty of their situation and this can present itself in many forms ranging from challenging behaviour to a child whose despair makes them withdraw into themselves. They will find it very difficult to trust adults because their experiences may have been that adults hurt them and let them down.


Foster Carers are required to provide an environment where the child can feel protected from the dangers they have experienced for as long as it is needed. It is important that the needs of each individual child are taken into consideration which is why our staff are highly skilled in the process of matching each child with their carer.


Some children need a foster family for a very short period of time where there is nobody within their extended family who has the space or ability to look after them. Other children will remain looked after for longer until their parents are helped to make changes to their lifestyle that will enable them to care for them again but many children will need to live with a foster family until they are able to live independently as an adult.


It is understandable that these children will require immense patience, understanding and commitment from adults to stick by them and help them. Alpha Plus Fostering is confident of finding such carers and is committed to working alongside them to ensure the best experiences for children who are placed with us. The rewards of seeing children grow and develop into happy, healthy young adults are endless.


To find out more about the rewards of fostering click here


Top Tips from an experienced Foster Carer

If you are considering becoming a Foster Carer there are many things you will need to consider. One of the predominant things that potential carers worry about is how they will cope with difficult behaviours, or how they will get to know the child who is placed in their care.

Children in care can have complex behaviours because they have a lot to contend with emotionally. They have left their families behind and are coming to a strange home to live with you. They are just as scared as you are and sometimes they are angry and confused too. As a new carer you will have a support network around you to help you to support the child through this difficult change. It is hard work but it can also be extremely rewarding.

One of our Foster Carers, Lesley who has now been a carer for Alpha Plus for over 8 years provides these top tips for new carers:

Have no expectations, some children will struggle to form strong bonds with you at first; they will likely be confused, scared and maybe even angry. Give them time and space!

Learn to read between the lines. They might struggle to communicate with you and reading between the lines is likely to help you in meeting their needs. Many children in care have needed to be very independent and struggle to know when it’s ok to ask for help.

Observe a lot. You will learn a lot.

Try not to keep level with the child’s emotions – stay calm

Speak with other Foster Carers. They are the best support network you can have, they will help you to realise that you are doing ok and that they are facing the same challenges. Sometimes you might feel like they are the only other people who understand.

Gather as much information about the Child(ren) as you possibly can before you meet them, such as likes and dislikes. This will help you to make them feel comfortable in your home as soon as possible and will help you start to build a bond.

Take each day as it comes, some will be better than others. Hold on to the small wins and the progress they show, this will keep you strong through the rocky patches.

Get to know your Supervising Social Worker really well and be honest with them about your feelings so that they can offer you the best possible support. They are there to help you provide the best possible care.

Attend training and get to know your peers. Training is invaluable and will help you to understand your child’s behaviour better while developing strategies to support them. You will also gain invaluable knowledge about the support available for the young person in your care.

Be prepared to be busy! Between school runs, evening and weekend activities and birth family contact you will be out of the house a lot.

Have your own voice at meetings – Be heard! It is your job to advocate on behalf of these children.

Don’t rush getting to know the child – move at their pace.

Be prepared for chaos, mess, and hopefully lots of fun!

Foster Carers and HMRC

For anybody who is considering becoming a foster carer, and for those that are already fostering, you have been invited to take part in a free webinar hosted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The webinar aims to help you understand tax responsibilities and any National Insurance issues that may arise for a self-employed foster carer.

The free, hour-long webinar will take place at 11am on the 14th February and will include an interactive question and answer session.

The webinar can be accessed from all laptops, iPads, iPhones or tablets, provided you have internet access.

Spaces are limited and reservations are necessary.
To register, please visit HMRC Foster Carers Registration