Physical and relational permanence in adoption and other long-term placement for young adults who entered care at a young age in Northern Ireland

Montserrat Fargas, Dominic Mc Sherry

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Placement stability is sought for children who enter state care and need a place to call home. The research literature has very much focused on looking at placement stability (or physical permanence), and how to avoid placement moves and breakdowns. Adoption has been found to achieve stability in a greater degree than other long-term placements, such as foster care or kinship foster care. However, the notion of placement stability does not consider the subjective account of the young person and thus the quality of the placement, whereas the concept of relational permanence does. Relational permanence conveys an enduring positive relationship between a young person and a caring adult. Very little is known about what happens after children move out of long-term placements. Does relational permanence collapse when the child moves out?The Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes Study is a longitudinal study that has been following all the children who were in care on 31st March 2000 and under 5 years old. Three waves of the study have been completed to date, and Wave 4 (2016-2019) data collection is ongoing. Stage 1 of this wave has been completed. It involved the development of a placement profile for the full study population on the basis of placement data provided by social services through to the 31st March 2016. Stage 2 involves (face-to-face) surveys and semi-structured interviews with the young people and their parents and carers. The study is looking at a range of issues across placement types (i.e. adoption, foster care, kinship care, returning to birth parents, or Residence Order). In this poster, we are going to focus on the issues of placement stability and emotional/relational permanence. This will involve examining placement stability for the 354 young people across the different types of placements; but also the circumstances of some breakdowns/disruptions; some of the young people’s sense of belonging and being part of the family; and their parents’/carers’ feelings of bonding to them. On the one hand, we found high levels of placement stability for the 354 young people in our study, although those who were adopted and placed under a Residence Order appeared more likely to remain in the same caregivers’ home than young people in foster care and kinship care did. On the other hand, interviews with over 30 of the young people revealed high levels of relational permanence, and showed that placement disruption did not necessarily mean a breakdown in the relationship. Our findings have clear implications in terms of policy and practice, which will be briefly represented in the poster.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018
EventSixth International Conference on Adoption Research - Centre Mont-Royal, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 8 Jul 201812 Jul 2018


ConferenceSixth International Conference on Adoption Research
Abbreviated titleICAR6

Bibliographical note

Sixth International Conference on Adoption Research , ICAR6 ; Conference date: 08-07-2018 Through 12-07-2018


  • Physical permanence
  • Relational permanence
  • Adoption
  • Foster care
  • Kinship care
  • Return home
  • Rehabilitation
  • Outcomes


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