When I first started my role as a supervising social worker I had to complete the skills to foster training, one of the questions asked of all the participants present was to name one thing that annoys you. At the time I honestly stated “foster carers”. Having worked as a children’s social worker on a busy child protection team I felt my priority was safeguarding children at risk and not necessarily those in the care system.
My justification for the example I gave on the training course was regarding an incident when I was busy one afternoon removing a sibling group of three with whom I had worked with over a year. During this time a foster carer had rung me on several occasions, I obviously was not in a position to discuss anything with the carer so I didn’t answer with the thought of returning the phone call later that evening. However after a late and emotionally draining evening I did not return the carers phone call. The next morning I arrived for work and found an email from the supervising social worker copying my manager in - I wasn’t pleased with the tone and that the supervising social worker felt the need to copy my manager in. My manager and I discussed this and I remember my manager concluding with comments such as “they just don’t get it”.
At that time I was one of those child social workers who thought maybe supervising social workers did just sit around drinking lots of cups of tea, I can now confirm that I was wrong.
As a supervising social worker, I do believe we have the option of drinking a lot of tea and personally I often accept the cups of teas and coffees on offer, although I do think this honestly helps build relationships with foster families, as well as give a little stimulation or substitute for the lack of food.
The role of a supervising social worker varies massively and I do feel that the skills that I have learnt as a child social worker are transferrable. From supporting foster families with the matching process and discussing referrals, to supporting carers who are subject to an allegation being made against them to discussing the need to maintain placements or discussing the difficult decision to end a placement.
As a supervising social worker, it is important to realise that often the professional that knows the child the best are the foster carers themselves, and they are at times the best advocates for the children placed with them. Also as a supervising social worker, I have often witnessed child social workers dismissing attempts made by carers to represent the wishes and feelings of the child and advocate for the children placed in their care. As well as supporting carers on such occasions often you may find yourself challenging carers, especially if this in in contrast to the LA care plan, yet still working with them in positive way.
I have learnt that foster carers often feel angry that, despite being told they are professionals and part of a wider team, they are not treated as such and appropriate information isn't shared with them. Often the relationship between a carer and a child social worker can become strained and you are rightly there as the link person.
As a supervising social worker, I attempt to support the carer as much as possible by providing the relevant advice and guidance and exhaust all efforts to contact the social worker and/or team manager. But, at the forefront of my endeavours is to ensure that the relationship between the carer and the child social worker is a positive one. I feel it is important to inform carers of child social workers' various demands on them and vice versa. Skills such as challenging, mediating, negotiating having the ability to breakdown complex concepts all are relevant in both forms of social work as are many other transferable skills.
As a lead professional, I feel child social workers have the responsibility and the kudos with the role they occupy, although I also feel the role of a supervising social worker is an important and necessary one and doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves.
A day in the life of a fostering social worker
7:30am Press snooze alarm for the third time.
7:45am Breakfast and shower.
8:00am Tea and making calls and returning emails.
10:00am Placement planning meeting. An opportunity to complete and sign relevant paperwork including safer caring policies, risk assessments, delegated authorities and any local authority paperwork that was outstanding at the point of placement, including medical consents and Placement Information Record (PIR). This is an also an opportunity to discuss legal status, care planning, contact arrangements etc. Child social worker leaves at 11:30am but I remain to check out the understanding of the meeting, break down concepts and terminology and reassure and confirm support that is on offer. This is often done after the child social worker has left as many carers and I have often felt that the child social worker is working to a timescale/set agenda and carers often find it easier to discuss or ask any questions with their supervising social worker after the child social worker has gone.
12:00pm In the car returning emails and phone calls to colleagues, carers and social workers.
12:30pm Phone call to next visit to apologise as I will be late due to meeting overrunning and other matters (i.e. returning phone calls and emails).
2:10pm Supervision with foster carers and a cup of tea. Discuss all the children individually in placement, any dealings with the child social worker’s, determine relevant training for carers, discuss strategies to use with the children, discuss person-centred and empathic approaches to be used consistently and agree an action plan i.e. for me to chase up the child social worker in regards to the passport application, support child social worker find appropriate contact venues locally, gently remind the child social worker again about paperwork missing, etc. etc.
4:00pm Children Looked After (CLA) review and a cup of tea - children are invited to attend the meeting, prior to this meeting about any issues have been raised with the child social worker. Recommendations are made by the Independent Reviewing Office (IRO). Once again I speak to the carers following the meeting and have another cup of tea, to give them reassurance and support and discuss the care plans. Often the carers have questions following this meeting which I can support them with.
6:45pm I get home, realise that carers/social workers have rang me whilst in the CLA review although reassured that all my carers are well aware of the on call system and emergency duty team (EDT) and to avoid over dependency on myself I will call them in the morning (groundhog day).
7.00pm TV and a cup of tea to unwind.
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