Foster carers take on the role for very different reasons. Both my husband and I had seen our respective parents take on the care and responsibility of children of family members in the community whose families were unable to provide for them for whatever reason. Perhaps our motivation to care was inspired by this example, but like most foster carers we wanted to create a safe and stable home for young people who needed one.
So, we made the decision to train to become foster carers. Our training was detailed, systematic, and lengthy. We had to provide evidence of our skills and knowledge in understanding the values essential for fostering children and young people, to understand how to communicate effectively, to understand how to keep children safe from harm and ensuring health and safety and health care needs are met and finally how to develop ourselves through continuing professional development.
Any of this sound familiar to other social care professionals? We think so, yet despite our many years working as foster care professionals, there is still a reluctance among some of our social care colleagues to treat foster carers as equal in their own area of expertise. We have been fortunate to work alongside some excellent children’s social workers, Children’s Guardians, CAMHs professionals, health workers and other therapeutic staff and teachers, who have actively sought to include us when creating a team around the child. In our experience, when foster carers are included in this way and their views and contributions about the child in their care (and in their home!) is valued and respected, this can only reinforce the work of the professional network and improve communication and care planning for the child or young person.
Sadly, for us, there have been too many examples where the above model has not been followed and we are constantly chasing our children’s social worker for vital information about our young person’s care plan, therapeutic support, or other information that has been shared with the professional network but which we as foster carers have not been party to. On one occasion we were told by a children’s social worker that information requested by us was on a “needs to know basis” – however the information held back, in our opinion, had been essential in keeping our young person safe from harm. We have always been perplexed by this approach, as we as foster carers are bound by the same rules of confidentiality as our colleagues working alongside us. So why we are not always trusted to form part of the professional network and be included in all of its activities and communications? In far too many cases we are regarded as an afterthought simply rubber stamping decisions already formed without our input.
Perhaps the problem is the job title? Or maybe it’s because we provide care and support to young people in a home setting. Who knows, perhaps if foster carers were renamed foster workers or home practitioners or some other new term, it may inspire a change in attitude to the role among some of our children’s social care colleagues. We foster carers do an amazing and demanding job. We welcome traumatised and frightened children and young people into our homes and help to support them to be the best they can be by acting as care giver, advocate, therapeutic advisers and so much more. Most of us do this to make a difference to a young person’s live and hopefully to improve their life outcomes for the future. There is no doubt that the foster carer’s role is hugely rewarding, but it can also be challenging, difficult, isolating and frustrating. It is time that foster carers are universally valued for the work that we do and afforded the same level of respect as any other professional working within the child’s support network. At a time when morale and foster carers numbers are low, we need to start changing how we work together as a team so we can better understand the children in our care and ultimately help to improve their life outcomes.
Mike and Carol – Foster carers