The effectiveness of book-gifting programmes to enhance the reading skills of children in care: A randomised controlled trial of ‘Reading Together’ in England

Paul Connolly, Judy Sebba, Karen Winter, Jennifer Roberts, Priya Tah, Sharon Millen

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There now exists a considerable body of international evidence demonstrating the consistently poor educational outcomes faced by children in care. These effects emerge early and worsen as children grow older and last longer term into adulthood. One popular intervention aimed at addressing this has been the use of book-gifting. However, there is limited evidence that this, on its own, is effective in improving reading outcomes for chil- dren in care. Moreover, previous research suggests the need for book-gifting programmes to be enhanced through including a direct role for foster carers to support their children’s reading when receiving the books. This article reports the main findings of a three-armed randomised controlled trial conducted in the UK across 22 local authorities and involving 266 children, that sought to evaluate the effectiveness of an enhanced book-gifting intervention, supplemented by a paired-reading component for foster carers to undertake with their children, known as Reading Together. The effects of the Reading Together intervention were measured on one primary outcome, children’s levels of reading comprehension, and also included a number of secondary outcomes (reading accuracy, reading rate, receptive reading and attitudes towards reading). The trial found no evidence of the effectiveness of the programme, which is attributed to both the possible ineffectiveness of the programme itself and/or the confounding effects of Covid-19 national lockdowns and other restrictions that impacted on foster families during the period of the trial. However, the trial raises a number of important issues which are drawn out and discussed including: which children in foster care a programme like this should be targeted at; how to better ensure fidelity through an enhanced peer foster carer support role; the involvement of schools in interventions like this; and the need for more attention to be paid to the nature and quality of the carer/child relationship. Implications for future research are outlined.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107097
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date17 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Book-gifting
  • Paired reading
  • RCT
  • Children in foster care
  • Effectiveness


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