In June 2018 I wrote the first of my occasional blogs for the NAFP titled - What do we mean by therapeutic foster care? It is 18 months later, and I am still asking the same question and trying to help foster carers and their organisations find out what it means for them. Over time I am beginning to see that it is ongoing and evolving, it is not a point to be reached but much more a process to shape and be involved with.
How do we best understand the, feelings, internal working models, social world and needs of the traumatised children placed with us whose behaviour often seems perplexing, disturbing and confusing? It starts with the question, what sort of carers do we need to recruit, what might indicate that a foster carer has the potential to be a therapeutic carer? Then there is training, and support needs to equip and educate carers to understand the complex needs of traumatised children and how standard parenting responses may not be that useful and that we all need to think about parenting really differently. Then there is the model the agency and the carers use that informs them about this different sort of parenting, which one to pick, how to teach and embed it? Then there is something about the organisation itself, what does a therapeutic organisation look like, how do relationships and practice embrace and facilitate what it is to be therapeutic. Is there time for reflection embedded, are people exploring their own feelings, do children, carers and staff feel contained? Then, what does a therapeutic system look like, it is not just the internal relationships that matter but how the organisations and its individuals relate to other individuals, organisations and systems, can they bring something of their understanding of relationship, reflection and containment to the interface with the external world.
When one looks at the wholistic needs of children, carers, agencies and systems in this way I think another question to ask is, is this not important for every fostering provider or agency, is this not something we are all trying to do in some way, something that we are all reaching for and moving towards, could the thinking and way of working of therapeutic services be the way forward for all of us, something to move steadily towards not something special and exclusive for a few labelled services. In this way I return to the title of this blog, Re-thinking Foster Care, Therapeutic Approaches, which is actually the title of a conference organised by my organisation Orb8 and the Mulberry Bush School. The day is organised in a way to provide opportunities to consider the benefits that therapeutic caring can bring to all agencies, what we can learn from reflecting together about how we might form and develop services to offer the very best to the children who we work with and for.
The conference is now being held virtually on 3 June so do book soon using this link.
Dr Jane Herd is the founder and CEO of Orb8 a therapeutically informed training and service development social enterprise with a focus on trauma, neurodevelopment and attachment https://orb8.org/