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The Current Phase

picture of children for stage 3

The current phase of the study (2006-2009), Care Pathways and Outcomes: the Children’s Perspective, focuses on the children’s own perspectives on issues such as family, attachment relationships, self-concept, school, and sense of belonging, although the parent's/carer's perspectives are also sought. 

Key Research Questions for This Phase of the Study:

1. What are the placement histories and patterns for this population?  We identified the number of children who have achieved a permanent placement by the 31st March 2007, either through adoption, long-term foster care or a return home. 

 2. Are children faring differently according to placement type?  We are obtaining and comparing data on children who have either been adopted, have remained in long-term foster care, or have returned home.  This includes measures of self-concept, attachment, verbal ability, parental stress, ratings of child difficulty and of parent-child difficult interactions.  Carers also provide additional information as to how they feel the children are faring in their placement.

3. What do the children have to say about life in their placement?  We are exploring the children’s own views and feelings regarding how they are getting on at school, their peer relationships, their descriptions and understanding of family life, their sense of belonging to the family, who they might rely on for support and help, now and in the future, and what their hopes might be for the future.


Sample: 77 children (and their current carers/parents) have been interviewed. This is a sub-sample of the 374 children who were under 5 years old and in public care in Northern Ireland on 31st March 2000. This includes: 18 adopted children; 19 children in non-relative foster care; 13 children in relative foster care; 15 children subject to a Residence Order; and 12 children returned home to their birth parents.


Qualitative and quantitative methods are being used with children and their (foster, adoptive, birth) parents:

With parents:

1. Questionnaire : This is a brief questionnaire developed by the research team, and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. It contains general questions in relation to the placement and characteristics of the child.

2. Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) (Goodman, 1997): this measure is contained in the questionnaire (cited above). It is a brief behavioural screening questionnaire for assessing psychological morbidity in children and adolescents, as perceived by their parents.  It is composed of 25 items divided into five scales of five items each, including: emotional symptoms; conduct problems; hyperactivity/inattention; peer relationship problems; and pro-social behaviour.  A total difficulties score is based on the combined scores of each of the scales, except the pro-social scale.  The scores can be classified as normal, borderline or abnormal.

3. Parenting Stress Index – Short Form (PSI/SF): This is a measure for stress in the parent-child system, and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. It contains 36 items divided into four sub-scales: Defensive Responding, Parental Distress, Parent-Child Dysfunctional Interaction, and Difficult Child .

4. Semi-structured interview: It focuses upon:

  • how the placement has been progressing;
  • issues of attachment and bonding;
  •  the child’s behaviour;
  • contact with birth family or previous carers;
  • support issues;
  • involvement with Social Services;
  • the child’s relationship with other family members;
  • family activities;
  • school and the child’s peer relationships;
  • communication with the child; and
  • feelings regarding the child’s future. 

With children:

1. The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment – Revised version for children (IPPA-R) (Gullone & Robinson, 2005): The original IPPA (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987) was developed to measure the positive and negative affective and cognitive dimensions of adolescents’ relationships with their parents and close friends. The IPPA-R is appropriate for use with youth aged between 9 and 15 years. It contains two scales: 28 items assessing parent attachment, and 20 items assessing peer attachment. Respondents are required to rate the degree to which each item is true for them on a three point scale: ‘always true’, ‘sometimes true’, or ‘never true’. The items in each of the two scales cluster into three factors (trust; communication; anger and alienation). This measure was administered in a fun way, using a board game and stickers.

2. The Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale: This measure assesses self-concept in individuals aged 7-18.  It is composed of 60 items and yields a general measure of the respondents overall self-concept, but also includes six domain scales: physical appearance and attributes; intellectual and school status; happiness and satisfaction; freedom from anxiety; behavioural adjustment and popularity. This measure was also administered in a fun way, using a post-box system.

3. The British Picture Vocabulary Scale – Second Edition (BPVS-II): This is a test designed to measure receptive vocabulary in children aged 3-16.  The scale may be used as a screening test of scholastic aptitude (verbal ability or verbal intelligence).  The child indicated which of a set of line drawings best illustrates the meaning of a stimulus word pronounced by the researcher.

4. Interview using the me-book: It has been developed by the research team to structure the interview with the child. It is a ‘task-based’ (Punch, 2002) tool that allows children to express their own views, according to their own level of ability.  Each page refers to a particular topic, and involves an activity, such as drawing, using stickers or circling pictures.  Each topic or question is broad enough to allow the child to talk freely about a particularly issue, thus giving the child a certain degree of control over the interview. The me-book addresses issues such as: family membership; people who are important in the child’s life; things the child does with their family; subjects and activities that the child likes to do at school; things that the child likes to do in their spare time; what the child would like to do when they grow up; and who the child would like to be live with when they grow up. Download the book here.

With teachers:

1. Questionnaire (including SDQ): This is a modified shorter version of the Teacher-On-Pupil Questionnaire used in the ‘Growing up in Ireland’ study. It contains a couple of questions regarding the child’s academic performance and special help that the child receives at school, and includes the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – Teacher Report.



Families were sent an invitation pack containing information leaflets for children and their parents, and the  Pathways Introductory DVD that introduces the researchers and explain what would be involved if they were to choose to participate. With the consent of the children and their parents, the child’s teacher was asked (by post) to complete the teacher version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Goodman, 1997), and a short questionnaire (developed by the research team) exploring their views on how the child is coping in school.

Data collection with the families took place at their own home. There were two visits to the families: the first one consisted of introductions and quantitative measures, and lasted approximately one hour; while the second one involved qualitative methods seeking the participants’ perspectives, and lasted about 1 ½ hours.  During both visits, one researcher spoke to the parent(s), while simultaneously another engaged with the child in the information gathering activity (in the presence of a second researcher). Thus, children were interviewed individually, but parents were in an adjoining room.

Visit One : The parents and children were introduced to the study, and informed consent to participate is sought.  Parents completed the Parenting Stress Index- Short Form (PSI/SF - Abidin, 1990); and the questionnaire, which included the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ - Goodman, 1997).  Children completed the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale 2 (Piers & Herzberg, 2002); the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment – revised (IPPA-R) for children (Gullone & Robinson, 2005); and the British Picture Vocabulary Scale – Second Edition (Dunn, Dunn, Whetton & Burley, 1997).  The children were able to engage in play activities while answering the questions from these measures, that is using a board game that required the child to put stickers on a poster (each type of sticker represents a different answer), and placing cards (with different statements written on them) into a ‘green’ and a ‘red’ post-boxes to indicate ‘yes; or ‘no’ answers.    

Visit Two : The parents took part in the semi-structured interview. The children completed the book (which had been developed by the research team), which allowed the children to express their own views on their lives, and how they were getting on in their placements. Discussion with the children and their parents was audio-recorded with the permission of the participants, transcribed and is being analysed now using NVivo 8.

(Home ) Page: 1. 2. 3.

Contact Information

Institute of Child Care Research
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work
Queen's University Belfast
6 College Park

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