Caring for Foster parents so that they are better placed to care for the children

Parenting has its own stresses and its own rewards, but as the UK faces a crisis in the numbers of foster parents available, one university is finding ways to improve personal well-being and reduce the stress-levels of those currently working in that role.

The ultimate goal of research at Bangor University is to improve child-care by ensuring that foster parents themselves are better able to cope with the demands of the parenting role they have taken on. This should, in turn, contribute to maintaining the numbers of current foster carers.

Using Mindfulness, an integrative mind-body based approach that helps people to change how they think and feel about their experiences, the University’s Centre for Mindfulness in Research & Practice is researching how effective a customised programme is in improving foster parent well-being.

Interest in mindfulness is growing internationally, and it has been used in a wide range of clinical and other settings. Bangor University believes this to be the first time that it has been adapted especially for foster parents, and its effects researched.

Twelve foster parents from local authorities and agencies across north Wales are currently following the first eight week Mindfulness-based Wellbeing for Foster Parents course. Already, the parents involved are reporting benefits to themselves and the children in their care.

Explaining their approach, Eluned Gold, from the Mindfulness Centre at Bangor University said: “We liken our focus on mindfulness practice for Foster Parents to the advice about oxygen masks given to air passengers with children- you fix the oxygen mask to your own face before helping a child. In the same way, the aim of the programmes is to help foster parents to cope with the demands of the role and with their own stress levels, so they are better able to parent the children in their care.”

She adds: “Mindfulness encourages participants to focus on their thoughts and feelings without judgement. People practice mindfulness in their daily lives by spending short periods of time in meditation and bringing an increased awareness to everyday experiences,  

“We want to assess the effects of Mindfulness on the parents’ own stress levels on their well-being and on their coping strategies. We are also interested in how improvements in parental well-being will impact on the children being cared for.”

The qualitative research will monitor changes in parental perceptions of their well-being or stress levels and how they perceive the children according to a variety of different measures.

Funded by Bangor University and the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the research is at an early stage and is one of a number of on-going small scale research projects looking at Mindfulness and parenting. If the results are favourable, the research group would be seeking funding for a larger study of the effectiveness and to disseminate their findings to other agencies.

Foster parents on the course commented:

"Life would be better if everyone did it"

"It's not easy but it is important to chill out "

"It's a chance to walk and look up rather than run"

"Calmness in a manic life"

"Kids learn from what we do not what we say, so if we are calmer so are they"

"Looking after yourself and learning to say no"

This is one aspect of mindfulness research at Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice, who are hosting a major Conference of Mindfulness in Society between 23-25 March 2013. The event has attracted more participants than ever and hosts leading international speakers and practitioners in the field.

Publication date: 21 March 2013