Interpretations of foster children’s emotions and caregiver stress

  • Research type

    Research Study

  • Full title

    Investigating the Influence of Attachment Style, Emotion Regulation and Parental Reflective Functioning on Parenting Stress in Foster Carers



  • Contact name

    Alexandra Thorpe

  • Contact email

  • Sponsor organisation

    Research Integrity and Governance, University of Southampton

  • Duration of Study in the UK

    0 years, 8 months, 31 days

  • Research summary

    Foster carers experience high levels of parenting stress (Bergsund et al., 2020), which which can increase the chance of placements breaking down and foster carers leaving the profession (Adams et al., 2018). This is a pressing issue given the current shortage of foster carers in the UK (Ofsted, 2021).
    Although foster carers receive training to understand the difficulties of the children they look after, the effect of foster carers’ skills on their level of stress is not well researched.

    It is suggested that the ability to consider the feelings and intentions underlying a child’s behaviour (sometimes known as parental reflective function) is protective against parenting stress, though this link has not been robustly investigated amongst foster carers. This reflective skill is thought to develop from the parent's earlier relationships. These early relationships shape an individual's attachment style, which influence their perceptions and behaviour in future interpersonal relationships.

    Several other factors, including an adult’s ability to recognise and cope with their own emotions, are also suggested to affect how easily the adult can apply these reflective skills in challenging situations.

    In birth families, a link has been found between parents’ attachment styles, their ability to reflect on the child’s emotional state, and their parenting stress. This study aims to explore whether the same link is also present amongst foster carers. The study will also explore whether foster carers’ way of managing their own emotions also plays a role. Understanding whether these factors influence parenting stress in foster carers could lead to improvements in training and support.

    The researchers aim to recruit registered foster carers in the UK to take part in a study involving completing questionnaires in an online survey, which will take around 20 minutes. Participants answers will be anonymous.

  • REC name

    West Midlands - Coventry & Warwickshire Research Ethics Committee

  • REC reference


  • Date of REC Opinion

    10 Oct 2022

  • REC opinion

    Further Information Favourable Opinion