Four sources of data were used:

1.    SOSCARE (Social Services Client Administration and Retrieval Environment) data

Data was provided for the full population on 31st March 2000 and again on 31st March 2002. The SOSCARE data provided general information such as date of birth and gender, and also a detailed account of each child’s placement history since they entered care until 31st March 2002. The 11 Health and Social Service Trusts provided information regarding where all the children were living (whether in foster care, with birth parents, etc.) at 31st March 2004. 

2.    Case file data

The case files of each child were examined after 31st March 2000, to cover the period up to that point, and after 31 March 2002, to cover the two-year period. They provided information on factors such as reason(s) for entry into care, child and family background and characteristics, details regarding child health or behaviour problems, and developmental delays. NIGALA (Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency) checked the status of the population in terms of dates of adoption between 2000 and 2002.

3.    Interview data

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the foster parents of 56 foster children, the adoptive parents of 51 adopted children, and the birth parents of 9 children returned to birth parents. All foster, adoptive, and birth parents (of children returned home) in the study were approached for interview, and this reflects the number of parents who agreed to be interviewed.  Although considerable efforts were made to recruit as many birth parents as possible, the low number of interviews reflects the fact that they are a very hard to reach group.

A key focus of interest was a comparison between those children who were either adopted or in long-term foster care. Therefore, for the purposes of this report summary, only those foster interviews where the child had been placed for longer than two years, and where the care plan was not considering adoption as of March 2002, were selected for detailed analysis. Twenty met these criteria. Consequently, 20 adoptive interviews were randomly selected for comparison.  The analysis of the remaining interview data will inform future publications. Given the low number of interviews that were conducted with birth parents of children who had been returned home from care, all nine were analysed. 

4.    Standardised Measures

During the interviews, parents also completed two questionnaires: Goodman’s (1997) Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and Abidin’s (1995) Parenting Stress Index – Short Form (PSI-SF).  The SDQ is a questionnaire that evaluates children’s pro-social (helpful) behaviour, as well as behavioural and emotional problems they might have. The PSI/SF aims to measure parental distress, parent-child difficult interaction, and difficulties with the child. 

Event History Analysis: EHA was used to attempt to understand what factors predict different care pathways for younger children in care, and to what extent

Event History Analysis is a term for a range of procedures that allows for examination of the amount of time elapsed before a certain event occurs, and tries to explain why some children are at a higher/lower risk of experiencing an event than others. 

For Event History Analysis, it is important to specify the exact point in time that the transition between states, defined as an event, occurs. This is relatively straight-forward in relation to adoption; there is a definable movement from not being adopted to the making of an Adoption Order; and in relation to  returning home to birth parents; there is a definable move from not living with birth parents to living with birth parents.  However in the case of foster care, the child remains essentially in the same state.  Although there tends to be a transition between short and long-term foster care, it is often very difficult to specify when this occurs.  Therefore, Event History Analyses were conducted solely in relation to adoption and return to birth parents. 

Ethical considerations

Access and consent: Prior to conducting the interviews, we provided each Trust with the SOSCARE number of each child in the population that fell within their jurisdiction, and asked the Trusts to return names and addresses of the current parents of these children. Parents were then sent an information sheet and a letter outlining the purpose of the study and what would be involved upon agreeing to participate in an interview. The letter also specified a date and time at which a researcher could visit to conduct an interview and asked the parent to contact the research team if they did not want to take part or if the date and time specified were not suitable. Letters were followed up by telephone calls in order to ensure that the parents were happy to proceed prior to a researcher visiting their home.  Informed consent was obtained from each participant at the start of the interview. 

Privacy, confidentiality and anonymity: At the start of each interview, the researcher outlined that responses would be presented in aggregate form, in peer reviewed journal articles and a final report, in a manner that would not reveal the identity of any individual or organisation. Participants were assured that they could refuse to answer any question or line of questioning that they did not wish to pursue throughout the course of the interview. All stages of the research were carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) Code of Good Conduct in Research (2003), and the QUB Data Protection Policy.  Data was stored on password protected QUB computers in anonymised form and access to the data was restricted to the research team. 


Abidin, R. (1995) The Parenting Stress Index Short Form, Third Edition.  Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Goodman, R. (1997) The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 581-586.

Useful Web Sources

Adoption UK:

Barnado’s NI:

British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF):

Childlink (a fast growing innovative online database focusing on Legislation, Policies and Practices regarding children, young people and families who live in the UK and Ireland):

Children’s Law Centre (based in Northern Ireland):

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY):

Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency (NIGALA):

Institute of Child Care Research, Queen’s University Belfast:

Voices of Young People in Care (VOYPIC):

 Although we try to point people towards good advice and services, the ICCR cannot be responsible for the content of linked or recommended external internet sites.

The next stage:

The interviews with the adoptive, foster, and birth parents gave us a sense of how the children seem to be getting on.  But how do the children themselves feel they are getting on?  How has their care experience impacted on their lives?  Where do they consider ‘home’? How do they feel regarding their sense of belonging?  How do they feel about contact?

The current phase of the study, The Children’s Perspective, aims to look at these questions through interviews with groups of adopted, fostered, and returned home children, and their parents and carers.

Study Title: Care pathways and outcomes: Following a population of children who were under five years old and in care in Northern Ireland in 2000.

Report Title: From care to where?  A care pathways and outcomes report for practitioners

Report Authors: Dominic McSherry, Emma Larkin, Montse Fargas, Greg Kelly, Clive Robinson, Geraldine Macdonald, Dirk Schubotz and Rosemary Kilpatrick

November 2008

ISBN 9780853899464

CDS N111329

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