Same goal different directions!
By Cathy Mayes
Sometimes everyone needs to walk a little way in the other person’s shoes, and as foster carers, you know the situation I’m talking about. The child is in crisis. You are trying to manage the situation yet the social worker seems to be coming from a totally different direction. And in fact that may well be the problem.
We all have important roles to play in the lives of the children and the young people that we care for and for whom we have responsibility. The foster carer’s role is similar to that of being a parent. You have to look after the emotional stability, the every day care, the diet, hygiene, exercise, education, family outings, and friendship groups of the child or young person. You have to look after and encourage social skills, build confidence and self esteem in order to progress towards independence.
The child’s social worker role is a statutory role. They must ensure that the child/young person is safe, attending school and health appointments, participating in their review and has an education plan in place (PEP) and that they are having contact if appropriate. Altogether the more pragmatic aspects of the individual’s life.
On top of all this, there is also the fostering supervisory social worker who’s role is to offer support, advice and assistance to the foster carer and to liaise with, and be the link with, the child’s social worker.
By actually writing these roles down one can see that there are three quite specific roles, that of the foster carer, the supervisory social worker and the child’s social worker. Together the focus is to look after the whole child/young person and to support their holistic development, yet all roles are slightly yet significantly different.
‘Foster carers play a central role in providing family based care for foster children. Enabling, developing, and supporting foster carers to care for foster children in a way that provides security, stability, love and a strong sense of identity and belonging involves foster carers themselves being professionally supported, both emotionally and practically’.
‘The supervising social worker acts as the conduit between the fostering household and the fostering service, and is distinct from the role of the foster child’s social worker. The role of the supervisory social worker is complex since it encompasses both the support and supervisory aspects of work done with the foster carer’.
(H. Cosis Brown, J. Sebba, N. Luke. Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education
University of Oxford September 2014)
‘A social worker works with children and young people who reside with foster carers, kinship carers or in residential placements. In a small number of cases, children may live with their parents. Children and young people are often subject to a Care Order and the role of the Children’s Social Worker is to fulfil the council’s obligations as a corporate parent. The role is to work alongside other professionals, to ensure that a child or young person receives appropriate care, education and health services’.
Different roles, yet whatever our role, our priority is the well-being of the child/young person.
And if sometimes there appears to be conflict between foster carers and social workers essentially this comes from our different purpose, and, different approach. This also means that when a decision has to be made about the child or young person, from a change of placement to having their hair cut, the system can seem rather unwieldy. This can leave foster carers, and those in their care, feeling disempowered by the professionals, especially at meetings when the child’s or young person’s welfare is being discussed. Foster carers have told me that sometimes they can feel that they are invisible. Often they are referred to as ‘the carer’ rather than by their name and this adds to the feeling of disempowerment.
So when professionals gather to discuss a child/young person it is important for foster carers to be included as fully as possible. Not only do they hold the most up to date information about the child/young person, they actually know the child best and particularly when they have been given all the information that is available about the child/young person.
The foster carer has cared for and supported the child/young person through their settling-in process. They have supported the child/young person through the ups and downs of starting pre-school, school or various clubs. They have tried to encourage a sense of family life, establish trust, build relationships, and show love, acceptance and care to the child/young person.
The fostering social worker has a statutory duty to the child and must take responsibility for checking certain ‘standards’ according to the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards as laid down by the DfE. The fostering social worker is able to guide and support the foster carer through the standards and the legislation related to foster care and is ultimately responsible for those standards being met for the individual for whom they share responsibility.
The fostering social worker is there for the foster carer and will frequently see the whole family when they visit, they will also support foster carers with their training choices and needs. The child’s social worker is working more behind the scene to also ensure that the child is safe and receiving education, health and care as appropriate.
This is not to forget other professionals also have important roles in the child/young person’s life; their teacher, their sports coach, group leader. These people also need to be able to share what they have observed and learned about the individual with others in the team. In order to see the whole picture of what is happening for the individual, and to see how they are coping and progressing, or in fact to see where they may be struggling or regressing, and perhaps require extra support; everyone must feel confident to join the conversation.
Remember we are all members of the same team; the team around the child. Respect for each other’s role and responsibility is paramount for the end goal; the direction may be different, but the goal remains the same. Information needs to be shared. We all have knowledge and we know what we know, BUT we don’t know what we don’t know and therefore the knowledge someone else holds may be key to a successful outcome for the individual.
Foster carers are valuable members of the team around the child, they have an enormous role to play in supporting the child/young person and they are in turn supported by their supervisory social worker. There may be differences of opinion and that is a positive thing in that it opens up conversation and debate.
You may not always agree on the debate although your end goal will be the same; to support the child or young person in your care.
Cathy Mayes Independent Trainer/Facilitator