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Everyone needs somewhere that we call home; having the chance to settle into a foster or residential placement over a period of time gives children a feeling of belonging, helping them feel secure in themselves and their identity.

Stability will be achieved only by making sure that the child is in the right placement for them. Unfortunately, a shortage of placements, and the high cost of residential or more therapeutic settings, means that children whose needs might be best met in a children’s home or specialist placement often have to experience many placement breakdowns in foster care before they can access the right kind of placement for them.

Of course, sometimes it is important that a child or young person moves placement. Their needs may no longer can be met at their current placement, or concerns about their safety may mean they need to move out of their local area. These moves should be proactively planned for, and processes put in place to make sure that the child understands that they are moving and why, so that it does not come as a shock.

Children should be given a chance to get used to the idea of moving, maybe visiting their new house and carers.

Unfortunately, looked after children often experience changes in placement for other reasons and these changes can be unexpected and sudden. They may even happen with no notice being given to the child. Before there’s a big change in a child’s life, like a placement move, there should be a review meeting, however often children say that this doesn’t happen. 

Placement breakdowns are more common as children get older. As young people go through adolescence, they push boundaries, which can make it hard for their carers. It can be seen as easier to remove them from the placement and give them a ‘fresh start’ rather than supporting them and their foster carers to work to keep the placement stable.

 

Practical impact of moving placement

Moving placement can sometimes mean moving schools too, and that can have an impact on a child’s educational outcomes. Similarly, children may enjoy extra-curricular activities and hobbies that may have to end when they change placement. Moving placement also has more basic practical challenges, like making sure that all personal possessions get moved too.

It’s important that not just physical possessions move with the child, but also memories, hobbies and interests. New carers won’t have the memories or stories that previous carers will have created, and children won’t always remember, so life story work and other ways to capture memories are really important. Equally, children may enjoy a particular hobby or going to a particular club and it can be upsetting and unsettling if they are not allowed to continue this because their placement has changed.

 

Emotional impact of moving placement

Moving home has an emotional impact on children, but for children in care, they are not just saying goodbye to a house, they are also saying goodbye to people, pets and other familiar surroundings. Things will become new again, and it’s not just a new house, but new people and new ways of doing things with new rules to learn.

Children may also feel that being moved is their fault; that their carers do not want them anymore or that their placement is changing because of something they’ve done wrong, or that something is wrong with them. This can compound any similar feelings that they have about their birth parents. Clear communication about the reasons why, and frequent reassurance for children and young people, is essential to manage the process of changing placement.