Being a parent at a distance- support to birth parents when children are placed in foster care/residential care

Research project
Active research
Project size
4 871 000
Project period
2019 - 2021
Project owner
Department of Social Work

Short description

Previous research tells that parents whose children are placed in foster care to not get support from social welfare to maintain their parenting role, or how to develop a parenting role from a distance. However, social welfare is by law assigned this task. In this research project, seven municipalities work together with researcher in order to improve their support to birth parents. Through survey, focus groups and interviews the project investigate what support the parents are offered, and also investigate the parent’s experiences of the contact with social welfare. The research project is part of the National Programme on applied welfare research, and funded by Forte.


Every year, about 20 000 Swedish children are placed in foster care, i.e. separated from their birth-parents to live with foster parents or in residential care. Foster care is a temporary solution according to Swedish legislation and child and youth services are supposed to have a family oriented perspective where birth-parents are supported and involved in their children’s lives even at distance. Nevertheless, research and national reports show that birth-parents are not receiving the support they need to maintain or develop their parenthood.

Studies show that birth parents stay important in most of these children’s life and that children tend to worry when their parents are not supported. Studies have has also highlighted that when parents have positive experiences of professional support, it is connected to a feeling of being respected, listened to and supported into having a positive role in the children’s lives. Negative experiences, on the contrary, are connected to a situation where the grief and loss is not recognized, where parents feel disempowered, punished and undeserving of support.


This research project aims to understand the current support in six Swedish services and how it develops when practitioners take part of research and are given the opportunity to reflect on and advance their working processes within the frames of a ‘breakthrough model’. The research design includes interviews with practitioners and parents as well as observations and involvement of user organizations. The project is partly based at two universities, and partly in two regional support structures including 26 municipalities. The need for improvement has been identified by managers and practitioners within child and youth care, and the project is supposed to make impact not only in the six participating services, but in the regions at large.


Therése Wissö,

phone: +46 766-18 63 86


Terése Wissö

Anna Melke, The Gothenburg Region 

Irene Josephsson, Region Jönköping county