The Fostering Network report which launched Fostercare Fortnight, highlighted how too many teenagers in care experience a series of placement breakdowns as their foster carers struggle to cope. It called for more targeted recruitment, and more support for carers when things are going wrong.
Like many others, my work with carers over a number of years means I’m not surprised at all by the report’s findings, and I wouldn’t disagree with those recommendations – but I don’t think they go far enough.
Yes, we clearly do need more foster carers, especially carers who have the desire and ability to look after young people whose journeys around the system mean it’s a real struggle to become ‘part of the family’. Or who at this stage don’t want to ‘belong’ to any more families……
Yet however these teenagers feel or behave they are in desperate need of stability, a home where adults care and can teach them the practical and emotional skills they so badly need for adulthood.
So recruiting is not where it ends – as it never is. Foster carers who take on this role may require training, and they most certainly will need on-going support. But what kind of ‘training’ really makes a difference? And what ‘support’ keeps you going – with energy and vitality – engaged, motivated and feeling good about yourself and what you do? (Especially when all around you are very quick to criticise when things go ‘wrong’….)
My project work with NAFP members’ foster carers over the past few years suggests that these are key questions, and that we have a long way to go. Carers have told me that much of the training and materials they see are too abstract, too ‘academic’ and rarely focus on what they can do.
At the same time, their stories about the impact on their own well-being of sharing their lives with very angry, depressed – or even detached – young people has made me convinced that we should be very concerned about the state of their emotional health.
Yes, most agencies have some kind of ‘support’ on offer – but do these therapies work for everyone? Carers I’ve met can feel ‘talked out’ – fed up of being asked to describe how they feel, and then ignored when they do express themselves……
Introducing a different approach, which we tried in our pilot project with ISP foster carers in Teynham, may be one way forward. Here yoga, meditation and more general advice about looking after your health in the broadest sense appeared to work. These carers told us that not only did they see improvements in their physical health, but that they also felt better – more energy, focus and able to ‘let go’ of emotions evoked by what they could not change. And, meeting together to practise gave them a sense of ‘community’, where they could be there for each other – so important for people whose potential isolation and loneliness is rarely acknowledged.
I’ve been told that this is all a bit ‘airy fairy’. Or more usually that it is a ‘luxury’ that social care can’t afford. But I believe it’s time to open our minds and catch up with the rest of the world. What we’re doing now is clearly flawed – and wouldn’t it be better to invest in our foster carers rather than in even more expensive (and short-term) advertising campaigns?