Relational Learning Framework research 2018-02-07T20:20:27+00:00

Research supporting the Relational Learning Framework

The Relational Learning Framework (RLF) is a case conceptualisation tool designed to help foster parents and foster care practitioners think about the child’s perspective and what they need from their relationship with their caregiver. Such tools are not usually subject to research as they are not an intervention as such. However, the RLF has been researched in two small studies by the developer. In the first study the RLF was used in a group format as part of an intervention alongside teaching on attachment, emotional communication and behaviour management. The participants were 19 foster parents or residential caregivers and the design used was a multiple baseline, that is, scores before and after the group were compared for each caregiver and for each foster child. It should be noted that the agencies which participants were drawn from provide care to foster children and adolescents who are likely to have more severe problems than the wider population of foster parents and children.

Comparing group data, the intervention had significant positive effects for child daily problem behaviour, parent daily stress, overall emotional and behavioural problems, carer-defined problems, the quality of the attachment relationship and the child’s overall functioning. However, only improvements in the child’s overall functioning were maintained at a significant level at six month follow-up. There were no significant increases in mind-mindedness or reflective comments after the intervention but there was a trend to higher attributions after the intervention and positive mind-mindedness significantly increased at six month follow-up. At an individual level, modified Brinley plots showed shifts in the direction of improvement for mind-mindedness at follow-up and reflective comments and attribution ratings at post-intervention and follow-up.

Many studies using a brief group training format for foster parents have not found a significant decrease in children’s overall emotional and behaviour problems and it is possible that this group format is not sufficient for the complex problems foster children face. Given that the current intervention produced temporary improvements in foster children’s behaviour problems of the sort which have been shown to be difficult to change in foster care further development and evaluation of the intervention is planned, with more attention paid to follow up by social workers to ensure the generalisation and application of the skills learned.

The second study involved 16 social workers, psychologists and therapists who work with foster children, who participated in the same training programme, which was modified for practitioners. The aim was to evaluate a training programme for practitioners who work with foster children, foster parents and their families. The programme was adapted for the learning needs of practitioners and a treatment manual was developed. The focus of the training programme is to teach practitioners attachment theory, the Relational Learning Framework (RLF), emotion coaching, and an application of the functional analysis of behaviour, which takes foster children’s unique situation into account. To evaluate the training, participants were asked to describe a child they were working with and responded to scenarios of clinical work. The responses were evaluated for the proportion of mind and emotion related comments and their empathy and reflectiveness.

Participants were also given a one page diary sheet to complete before the next session answering three questions: What thoughts have you had about the training in your work from over the past month? Did you apply any of the learning to your work? What was the outcome? The diary transcripts were processed using thematic analysis. Participants also completed two training evaluation questionnaires, one at the end of the training and one 3 months after the training.

This study may be the first to use assessments of mental representations and cognitions in evaluating a professional training programme. The programme was effective in increasing practitioners’ empathic and reflective comments but mind-mindedness scores were not significantly different. Mind-mindedness may not be a suitable measure for professionals who are not in a parental role. A thematic analysis of practitioner diaries showed that the training was well received by practitioners who began utilising the techniques and principles taught immediately after the first training day. They reported the techniques had positive outcomes for work with clients and that they were more aware of clients’ perspectives. They utilised theoretical concepts presented in the training course and reported thinking more about their clients.


  • Kelly, W. (2015). Foster parents’ understanding of the foster child’s perspective: Does it
    matter and can it be changed? Thesis submitted to Victoria University of Wellington in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
  • Kelly, W., & Salmon, K. (2014). Helping foster parents understand the child in their care: A Relational Learning Framework. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 19, 535-547. doi:10.1177/1359104514524067
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