Looking after the family: a study of children looked after in kinship care in Scotland

Study commissioned by the Social Work Services Inspectorate, now the Social Work Inspection Agency.

Appendix 1 - Methodology

The methodology used in the study is described below.

The survey

A postal questionnaire was sent to all 32 local authorities. The questionnaire also provided the opportunity for local authorities to give their opinions on how they organised and provided kinship care. The advantages of this methodology was that it was possible to gain information on the rationale, priorities and tensions that underpinned the provision of kinship care. In this respect it gives a fascinating insight into why and how kinship care is organised. What the study cannot do is provide accurate survey data on all aspects of the organisation and delivery of kinship care. It does, however, provide a foundation for understanding the kinship care service in Scotland and identifying issues that need to be taken forward.

The intensive study

The sample of 30 children was drawn from five local authorities chosen to represent different geographical areas and different ways of organising and delivering kinship care. The sample was selected in collaboration with the local authorities. The social work department identified children who had been in placements for more than six months and who were over the age of eight. The identity of children was not revealed to the research team at this point to preserve children's anonymity. The research team selected a purposive sample of children, taking into account a range of ages, gender, ethnicity and legal status. Because of the size of the sample, caution has to be exercised in any generalisations in relation to the whole population of children looked after in kinship care in Scotland. However, because the sample was confined to children who were in long-term kinship care across five local authorities, conclusions can be drawn for this group of children. The study can report on the experiences of 30 children in similar long-term placements across Scotland. The qualitative nature of the study allows for issues and trends to be identified.

Once children had been selected, the research team asked local authorities to distribute a letter of invitation to participate, and leaflets explaining the study, to both carers and children. The researchers tailored the leaflets to take into account children's ages. Consequently, there was a leaflet for children under twelve and one for children aged twelve and over. These leaflets informed children and families about the study, assured them about independence from social work services and confidentiality, and sought their participation. If families indicated to social workers that they were willing to participate, the social workers sent the names and addresses of the families to the research team who then made arrangements to visit children and families in their own homes.

Interviews with children were conducted by personnel from two voluntary organisations with considerable experience of working with children and young people. They organised and undertook interviews with children on our behalf. The children's carers were interviewed by the research team. Social workers or their managers were interviewed over the phone.

Informed consent

Carers of children under 12 were asked to give consent for the children and themselves to participate in the study. In line with the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 Chapter 6 it was assumed that children over 12 would give their own consent.

6.-(1) A person shall, in reaching any major decision which involves -

a. his fulfilling a parental responsibility or the responsibility mentioned in section 5 (1) of this Act; or

b. his exercising a parental right or giving consent by virtue of that section, have regard so far as practicable to the views (if he wishes to express them) of the child concerned, taking account of the child's age and maturity, and to those of any other person who has parental responsibilities or parental rights in relation to the child (and wishes to express those views); and without prejudice to the generality of this subsection a child twelve years of age or more shall be presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to form a view.

Carers and children were given the opportunity to opt out of the study at the initial point of contact. The research team were aware that children might agree to be involved not knowing to what they were agreeing. Throughout the whole procedure special recognition was given to ensuring children were comfortable and agreed to take part in the study. To do this the research team employed the Barnardo's ethical protocol (Barnardo's). This included ensuring that children could opt out at the beginning of the interview and at any point throughout. Red cards were given to the children so that they had control over what questions they answered. The interview schedules were child focused and used friendly props such as charts with smiley faces to rate attitudinal data and stickers and drawing pens.

Carers gave verbal permission for the research team to approach the social workers.

Research instruments

The research instruments for children included:

1. Interview schedules.

These covered:

  • children's understanding of the placement
  • children's well-being
  • educational progress and views on school
  • contact with birth family
  • experience and understanding of social workers
  • advantages and disadvantages of being in kinship care

2. Ecomaps We gave children ecomaps which were adapted from the work of Brannen and Heptinstall (see Heptinstall et al. 2001; Brannen 2001). These were designed to map the people children thought were significant to them. This map was divided into four sections: households, relatives, friends and others. Children were asked to complete the map themselves, writing the names of people in the relevant domains who were important to them. Because of time constraints, children were not asked to rank the importance of individuals as suggested by Heptinstall et al. (2001). The ecomap was used to give a broad overview of children's connections with their families, peers, parents and others significant to them.

3. Goodman's Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire These scales are a modification of the very widely used instruments to screen for emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents - the Rutter A+ B scales for parents and teachers. Although similar to Rutter's, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire's wording was re-framed to focus on a child's emotional and behavioural strengths as well as difficulties. The actual questionnaire incorporates five scales: pro-social, hyperactivity, emotional problems, conduct (behavioural) problems and peer problems (see Department of Health, Cox and Bentovim 2000).

4. Activities Questionnaire This was devised by the research team drawing on the work of Ben-Arieh (2000). This work stresses how children's daily activities, including their leisure activities, contribute to the quality of their lives.

The research instruments for carers included:

1. Interview schedule

This covered:

  • household structure
  • the nature of the placement
  • accommodation
  • employment
  • finance
  • support from social work
  • contact with the child's birth family
  • health
  • child's health
  • child's education
  • advantages and disadvantages of the placement

2. Parenting Daily Hassles Questionnaire This scale aims to assess the frequency and intensity/impact of 20 potential parenting 'daily hassles' experienced by adults caring for children. It has been used in a wide variety of research studies concerned with children and families - particularly families and young children. It has been found that parents (or caregivers) generally like filling it out, because it touches on many aspects of being a parent that are important to them (see Department of Health, Cox and Bentovim 2000).

3. Life Events Questionnaire This scale focuses on recent life events (i.e those occurring in the last 12 months) but could be used for a longer time scale. It is intended to assist in the compilation of a social history. Respondents are asked to identify which of the events still affects them. It is intended that use of the scale will:

  • result in a fuller picture of the family's history and contribute to greater contextual understanding of the family's current situation
  • help practitioners explore how particular recent life events have affected the carer and the family
  • in some situations, identify life events which family members have reported earlier

(See Department of Health, Cox and Bentovim 2000).

The telephone interview for social workers was based on a very brief interview schedule, which aimed to confirm children's length of stay in the placement and their legal status. It also canvassed the opinions of social workers on the pros and cons of kinship care and its organisation.

Remuneration children and carers

To acknowledge the contribution of children to the study each child was given a voucher to spend. Carers were given small tokens of appreciation in the form of confectionery.

Analysis of data

Quantitative data from all research instruments was analysed by using an Excel programme. Qualitative data from the interview schedules was analysed using qualitative methods such as those suggested by Aldgate and Bradley (1999). The quantitative created a basis on which to test the relative qualitative comments. Using both qualitative and quantitative data provided a richer and more reliable basis from which to develop the findings.

The survey and the study make no apology for a strong emphasis on the perspectives of children and their families. As users of services, children and their kinship families 'have much to contribute to the refining and development of services from the observations of the fit between agency activity and the meeting of their needs' (Aldgate and Bradley 1999 p. 37).

In the study, where quotes are used, the study names of all those interviewed have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

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