Positive Relationships and Behaviour Management


This chapter provides guidance on managing behaviour, which includes supporting positive behaviour, de-escalation of conflicts and discipline.


Restrictive Physical Intervention and Restraint Procedure


In November 2023, this chapter replaced one previously entitled Behaviour Management and Safe Caring.

1. Introduction

Whilst children bring their own values and behaviours to placements, foster carers and residential staff play a key role in influencing children.

There should be an holistic approach drawing on established theoretical bases, research, best practice and guidance in order to promote and develop positive behaviour, and a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and supporting children and young people.

A robust assessment of need should determine the approach to be taken and the most effective matching of placements. The referral information, Placement Plan and reviews are central to the ongoing planning and evaluation of the support in relation to behaviour. Foster carers and residential staff should be given such information, which is kept up to date, as to enable them to provide appropriate care for the child, in particular the most recent version of the child's care plan. Foster carers and residential staff should be aware of all the necessary information about a child's circumstances, including any significant recent events, to help them understand and predict the child's needs and behaviours and support the child.

The approach to behaviour support should:

  • Aim to create a safe, caring environment;
  • Ensure that all children have opportunities to become confident and achieve their full potential;
  • Encourage the child's consultation and participation in setting rules and consequences;
  • Ensure that all children and young people live in placements where they have clear expectations in relation to their behaviour, are supported to understand and to develop alternative positive approaches to challenges within their lives;
  • Ensure that all children and young people understand how positive behaviour is recognised and rewarded;
  • Ensure that all children and young people are supported to understand the consequences of negative behaviour;
  • Ensure that all foster carers and residential staff understand and share the principles of positive approaches to behaviour;
  • Accept the individuality of children and young people and celebrate the diversity of their backgrounds;
  • Recognise that placements are different, unique and represent many notions of family, yet they share a common value base.

2. Positive Behaviour Support

Foster carers and residential staff play an important part in the day-to-day life of a child, therefore good parenting, supported by training on behaviour management techniques and strategies, will enable them to achieve and develop a more positive relationship with the child and a more harmonious life and will enable the child to feel good about themselves.

The approach to positive behaviour support should ensure that:

Foster carers/residential staff provide an environment and culture that promotes, models and supports positive behaviour, and sets high expectations of all of the children in the placement.

Children are enabled to build trusted and secure relationships with their carers, who know them well, listen to them, spend time with them, protect them and promote their welfare.

The care and help from foster carers and residential staff assists children and young people to develop a positive self-view and to increase their ability to form and sustain attachments and build emotional resilience and a sense of their own identity. This care and help can also help them to overcome any previous experiences of neglect and trauma.

Foster carers and residential staff will be prepared and supported to manage the behaviour of children and young people placed with them and situations arising from and leading to this behaviour.

Foster carers and residential staff are expected to understand, manage and deal with children's behaviour including encouraging them to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict. Carers should have positive strategies for effectively supporting children where they encounter discrimination or bullying wherever this occurs.

Children should be able to develop and practice skills to build and maintain positive relationships, be assertive and to resolve conflicts positively. Children should be encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour in a way that is appropriate to their age and abilities. Foster carers and residential staff should respect the child's privacy and confidentiality, in a manner that is consistent with good parenting.

All foster carers and residential staff will receive training in positive care and control of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes.

All placements will have clear, consistent and fair boundaries, to enable children to feel safe, encouraged and appropriately rewarded, to help ensure that they will thrive and do well and to contribute to a feeling of well-being and security for children.

When caring for children, carers should at all times endeavour to:

  • Listen to and empathise with children, respect their thoughts and feelings and take their wishes into consideration;
  • Look for things that are going well, or any step in the right direction, and appropriately reward it;
  • Use rewards in a creative and diverse way, specific to children's needs, capabilities and interests. This may mean that children are rewarded with activities or rewards that they enjoy. But all 'tangible' rewards should be accompanied by use of 'non tangible' encouragement and support – by carers demonstrating to children that they have done well. Such 'non tangible' rewards include smiling and praising children;
  • Make sure that children and young people are aware of the things that they have done well. This should involve prompt verbal feedback, along with clear recording in the child or young person’s file. All ‘tangible’ rewards should be clearly identified.

Children usually benefit, early on, from rewards which may appear to outweigh that which is expected. This is normal; over time rewards can be more relevant as children's self-esteem and skills improve.

For example:

  • Children who have few social or life skills and whose self-esteem and confidence is low may require forms of encouragement and reward which are intensive, frequent or even excessive in order to help/remind them that they are doing well and appreciated;
  • A child who has previously been unable to get up for school may be offered an incentive for getting up on time for a few days.

Over time, as children achieve what is expected, such rewards should be reduced or children should be expected to achieve more for the same or a similar reward.

The PACE model can help a carer work successfully with a child.

PACE stands for:

Caption: The PACE model
Playfulness Using a light-hearted, reassuring tone – similar to parent-infant interactions – to creating an atmosphere of safety and reassurance where no one feels judged and your child feels able to cope with positive feelings.
Acceptance Acceptance is about actively communicating that you accept the feelings, thoughts and internal struggles that are underneath the child's outward behaviour. It is not about accepting the behaviour itself but helping to teach the child to not feel ashamed by their inner turmoil.
Curiosity Curiosity, without judgement, is how we help children become aware of their inner life. It's about wondering out loud without necessarily expecting an answer in return. Phrases like "I wonder if…" will help the child to put a name to their emotions and thoughts.
Empathy Feeling a child's sadness of distress with them, being emotionally available to them during times of difficulty shows the child that they are not alone and that the adult are strong enough to support them both through it.

(Sometimes 'L' for Love is included, making PLACE).

3. Minimum House Rules

All placements should have house rules, setting out expectations for how things are managed within the home. This should be explained to children, with the reasons for the rules and they should also know that that there are rules for everyone. They should not feel that they are being treated with less regard than other members of the household. Ideally children should know these expectations before they are placed.

These house rules should be recorded on the placement plan and in the safe caring document.

4. Managing Challenging Behaviour and De-escalation of Conflicts

All foster carers and residential staff will receive training in positive care and support of children, including training in de-escalating problems and disputes.

Conflict management should be used by foster carers and residential staff and should include the appropriate use of restorative practices that improve relationships, increase children's sense of personal responsibility and reduce the need for formal police intervention. This approach to care is designed to minimise the need for police involvement to deal with challenging behaviour and avoid criminalising children unnecessarily. Proactive and effective working relationships with the police should help to support and protect children.

Children should be encouraged and helped to develop skills and strategies to manage their own conflicts and difficult feelings through developing positive relationships with carers. There should be clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries for children.

Children should receive help to manage their behaviour and feelings safely. Foster carers and residential staff should respond with clear boundaries about what is safe and acceptable and seek to understand the triggers for behaviour.

Positive behaviour must be promoted consistently, with carers using effective de-escalation techniques and creative alternative strategies that are specific to the needs of each child and planned in consultation with them where possible.

Foster carers and residential staff will receive support on how to manage their responses and feelings arising from caring for children, particularly where children display very challenging behaviour, and understand how children's previous experiences can manifest in challenging behaviour.

Difficult or challenging behaviour in children can occur for a number of reasons, for example:

  • As a way of expressing emotions;
  • As a result of developmental delays or learning disability;
  • As a result of attachment/relationship difficulties with staff/carers;
  • Learned behaviours in which challenging responses have become habit in the face of frustration or anxiety.

It is helpful if staff and carers can understand the causes of the child's behaviour and provide the child with help and support.

When working with, or caring for, children with challenging behaviour it is useful to bear in mind the following:

  • The age and emotional maturity of the child;
  • That the aim of any positive behaviour management is to help the child learn how to behave more appropriately and not to punish or to purely keep the child under control;
  • Challenging or undesirable behaviour should not result in emotional distance between the child and the staff/carer;
  • No matter how difficult or challenging a child's behaviour, staff/carers should never resort to similar behaviour;
  • The more staff/carers are able to understand a child's behaviour and are able to meet their needs in a consistent manner, the less likely they are to encounter difficulties with control.

Children need clear boundaries and to know what is expected of them.

The key points of a positive behaviour approach are:

  • The ground rules are discussed with the child so that their views can be taken into account;
  • Staff and carers should be honest about any non-negotiable issues, such as smoking on the premises;
  • Rules need to be realistic and ideally phrased as a "do" rather than a "do not";
  • Children may need to be reminded from time to time of the expectations regarding their behaviour and of why we have rules.

It is important to consider that a child may have disabilities that affect their behaviour, social skills, communication and understanding so require extra help with behaviour management.

Staff/carers need to be aware that children under pressure can have strong feelings of frustration, distress or anger. For example, acknowledging that a child's feelings are legitimate may help them to understand that their behaviour e.g. hitting out or swearing is not OK.

It is important to work with the multi-disciplinary team to work out a positive approach to supporting the child or young person with their behaviours. This plan should be followed by all to ensure that the child or young person receives consistent messages around what is expected. Ongoing support around behaviours may be needed to keep the child or young person safe and healthy.

5. Discipline and Sanctions

5.1 Guidance on use of Sanctions

Sometimes children present behaviours that are difficult. Because of their experiences some behaviours can be worrying, confusing, upsetting and challenging.

Any action that constitutes a sanction should be proportionate, measured, not harsh and logical. Sanctions should be the last resort. They must work for the child or young person and be child-focused.

Carers should work from a therapeutic or PACE framework to support the child or young person.

Repetition of the rules, humour and clear messages can avoid sanctions being needed.

For a child or young person of an appropriate age, it is important to discuss what they think is an appropriate and fair restriction such as not using their games console for a night, not going out with a friend etc.

As a carer it is important to discuss what sanctions you are using with others and get support from professionals around this such as the child's social worker or a CYPMHS worker.

5.2 Non Approved Sanctions

The following sanctions are non-approved, which means they may never be imposed upon children:

  • Any form of corporal punishment; i.e. any intentional application of force as punishment, including slapping, punching, rough handling and throwing missiles;
  • Any measure of control, restraint or discipline which is excessive or unreasonable. Restraint is used on a child only where it is necessary to prevent injury to the child or other persons, or serious damage to property. See also: Restrictive Physical Intervention and Restraint Procedure;
  • Any sanction relating to the consumption or deprivation of food or drink;
  • Any restriction on a child's contact with their parents, relatives or friends; visits to the child by their parents, relatives or friends; a child's communications with any of the persons listed below; or their access to any telephone helpline providing counselling or advice for children (this does not prevent contact or communication being restricted in exceptional circumstances, where it is necessary to do so to protect the child or others):
    • Any officer of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service appointed for the child;
    • Any social worker for the time being assigned to the child;
    • Any Independent Visitor;
    • Any person authorised by the Regulatory Authority.
  • Any requirement that a child wear distinctive or inappropriate clothes;
  • The use or withholding of medication or medical or dental treatment;
  • The intentional deprivation of sleep;
  • The modification of a child's behaviour through bribery or the use of threats;
  • Any sanction which may humiliate a child or could cause them to be ridiculed; 
  • The imposition of any fine or financial penalty, other than a requirement for the payment of a reasonable sum by way of reparation. (The court may impose fines upon children which staff should encourage and support them to repay);
  • Any intimate physical examination of a child;
  • The withholding of aids/equipment needed by a disabled child;
  • Any measure which involves a child in the imposition of any measure against any other child; or the sanction of a group of children for the behaviour of an individual child;
  • Swearing at the child or the use of foul, demeaning or humiliating language or measures.

5.3 Approved Sanctions

Sanctions should be proportionate and work with the child or young person.

These should be recorded and agreed with other professionals.

  • Confiscation or withdrawal of a telephone or mobile phone in order to protect a child or another person from harm, injury or to protect property from being damaged;
  • Restriction on sending or receiving letters or other correspondence (including the use of electronic or internet correspondence) in order to protect a child or another person from harm, injury or to protect property from being damaged;
  • Reparation, involving the child doing something to put right the wrong they have done; e.g. repairing damage or returning stolen property;
  • Restitution, involving the child paying for all or part of damage caused or the replacement of misappropriated monies or goods. No more than two thirds of a child's pocket money may be taken in these circumstances if the payment is small and withdrawn in a single weekly amount. Larger amounts may be paid in restitution but must be of a fixed amount with a clear start and end period. If the damage is serious or the size of payment particularly large then the child's social worker should be informed of the matter;
  • Curtailment of leisure activities, involving a child being prevented from participating in such activities;
  • Early bedtimes, by up to half an hour or as agreed with the child's social worker;
  • Removal of equipment, for example the use of a TV or DVD player;
  • Loss of privileges, for example the withdrawal of the privilege of staying up late;
  • Suspension of pocket money for short periods.

5.4 Recording of Sanctions

All sanctions should be recorded. The record should contain the opinions of the child or young person. If they are not willing to give an opinion then the record should evidence the time and date that their opinion was sought.

Carers are not permitted to conduct body searches, pat down searches, searches of clothing worn by children or of their bedrooms.

Should carers suspect that a child is carrying or has concealed an item which may place the child or another person at risk, they should try to obtain the item by co-operation/negotiation.

If carers suspect that a child is concealing an item which may place themselves or another person at risk, they must notify the child’s social worker/local authority or, in an emergency, the Police.

7. Serious Incidents and Use of Physical Intervention

In the event of any serious incident (e.g. accident, violence or assault, damage to property), carers should take what actions they deem to be necessary to protect children/themselves from immediate harm or injury; and then notify the social worker/local authority immediately.

If there is a risk of serious injury/harm or damage to property, carers should not use any form of physical intervention except as a last resort to prevent themselves or others from being injured or to prevent serious damage to property. If any form of physical intervention is used, it must be the least intrusive necessary to protect the child, carer(s) or others. See also: Restrictive Physical Intervention and Restraint Procedure.

At no time should carers act unless they are confident of managing the situation safely, without escalation or further injury.

As many as possible of the challenges that are involved in caring for children will be dealt with without recourse to the involvement of the police who should only be involved in two circumstances:

  • An emergency necessitating their immediate involvement to protect the child or others;
  • Following discussion with the child's social worker and/or relevant senior manager from the local authority.

If any serious incident occurs or the police are called, the child’s social worker must be notified without delay and will then notify the relevant senior manager within the local authority and arrange for a full report to be made of the incident and actions taken. The Regulatory Authority must also be notified.

Further Information

Legislation, Statutory Guidance and Government Non-Statutory Guidance

Positive and Proactive Care: Reducing the Need for Restrictive Interventions - Department of Health and Social Care