Why foster carers should have all the info on each child they look after…

Surely foster carers know everything they need to know before a child comes to live with them… Don’t they?

Well, no. Not always.

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Oleksandr Nebrat (adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Oleksandr Nebrat (adapted)

In fact, quite often they are not told key things that relate to safety.

Why we should come clean with foster carers…

Apart from the obvious issues of honesty and integrity, there are a number of practical and ethical reasons why those placing children in foster care should be more open.

Before that, let’s examine the problem. What sort of information is witheld?

  • Fire setting – I’ve dealt with a number of cases, over the years, where a child has a history of lighting fires and the foster carers were not told. This has obvious and very worrying potential consequences for everyone living in the home in question.
  • Stealing – some kids have a tendency to be a bit light-fingered. Other carers may have reported a pattern of behaviour where things go missing without explanation.

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  • Violent or sexual behaviour – this never ceases to amaze me. Why would anyone place a child into a home without letting the responsible adults know that there was the possibility of these kinds of behaviours recurring? But it happens…
  • Sleeplessness – or at least a tendency for not sleeping well or being prone to very disturbed sleep.
  • Non-compliant or challenging behaviour – not an unusual thing in children who haven’t been parented well and/or who are facing removal from their birth families.

As you can see, there’s a range of issues here. Some are less serious. Others have potentially disastrous consequences.

To tell or not to tell…

I remember well the challenges of finding placements for children in need of being looked after away from home. It can be an immensely difficult thing.

Even when a potential placement is found, there are a number of hoops to get through before a child can be moved in. One of those is the agreement of the foster carers themselves – they have to say “yes.”

In my view this is the nub of the issue.

Because carers have to know something about the child and situation in order to make that decision. And it’s tempting not to tell them everything. Here’s why…

  • It would take a while – sometimes there isn’t a lot of time. Things happen. Kids need to be moved quickly. A thorough information exchange is difficult in these circumstances.

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

  • I don’t have all the information to hand – sometimes there can be problems with getting the information in the first place. The social worker dealing with the placement may not know the child and situation.
  • The carers may refuse to take the child – if the more challenging and difficult aspects of the child’s behaviour are shared, the carers may not agree to go ahead.

Placing children in foster care is a tricky and complex thing. It can be urgent, exasperating and exhausting – all at the same time. All the more so when children are distressed.

Yet there is one key practice issue at the heart of it, I believe, that would help…

We need to trust foster carers more…

Essentially, at least in my experience, we don’t give carers the credence they deserve. We withhold information because we fear their responses to it.

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But foster carers are professionals too. In fact, they spend more time with, know more about and give more to individual children in need than all the other professions put together.

Frankly, they deserve better than to be short-changed with scant information.

Here are some of the affects of withholding information like:

  • Feeling betrayed – carers can feel let down when they are not properly appraised of the challenges ahead.

    Foster family portait

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/omgimages

  • Sense of failure – when placements break down, carers can feel a real sense of personal failure at not being able to turn things around for the child
  • Anger – at not being made aware of key information at the beginning and therefore not feeling equipped to properly deal with the child from the outset.
  • Feeling de-valued – in these circumstances carers can feel un-trusted, like they are “second class citizens.”  That’s because we sometimes treat them that way.
  • Suspicion next time – once bitten, twice shy. Next time they are asked to consider taking a child into their home, they are hesitant, nervous, suspicious even. “What aren’t they telling me this time…?”

This is just too high a price to pay for withholding key information that would support the placement, help with the management and recovery of the child and might impact on the safety of those in the home.

Aside of the principle of it, in a time when we need more and more foster placements, we cannot afford to lose the ones we have due to this kind of disillusionment.

My views on the treatment of foster carers have been articulated in detail elsewhere. Suffice to say that we must treat all carers as professional equals. Because that’s what they are.

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Final word…

Foster and kinship carers are, without doubt, some of the most admirable people I’ve ever met. The effort and sacrifice they put into caring for children is inspirational.

I believe that we owe it to them to remember this and to afford them the respect they deserve.

That includes giving them all the information they need. Always. No exceptions.

What do you think?…

  • Please let me know your thoughts about information sharing and foster care…
  • Are you a carer who’s been denied key information? Or a social worker dealing with placements…  Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2015


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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • adam edwards

    Hugely agree with disclosure. An open honest approach is
    critical when dealing with the people who are going to be asked to care for and
    parent potentially compromised young people who through no fault of their own
    are going to be put in the hands of strangers and expected to adapt. It’s not
    as if displays of difficult or more disturbed behaviour is uncommon
    in fostered children.

    Good article Johnny.

    Thanks

    Adam

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Adam – appreciate it! :0) J.

  • anitanee

    Totally agree. My daughter’s foster carer knew so much about our daughter but that was because she was brilliant, and a great interpreter of child behaviour. But if she’d known more, she wouldn’t have had to leave it to guess work. It’s dangerous and unhelpful not to tell foster carers (for them, but most importantly for the young person).

    • jonnymatthew

      Totally agree, Anita! Great to hear the same convictions coming from your perspective as a parent of a child who’s been looked after. Thanks for commenting! Cheers, J. :0)

  • Tracy Pike CEO Cyca

    HI Jonny
    We support many LAC in our charity from the very young to those leaving care. I attend so many planning meetings too where as you rightly say foster carers have not been provided with the right information and sadly often the most challenging young people are then moved to multiple placements thus compounding their already insecure attachments and sense of loss. This may seem bizarre but for me the saddest thing to deal with is to watch children often being split from siblings being placed in care when all they want is to stay with their mums. Would it not be far more effective in terms of cost and trauma to in fact remove the mum from the home and place a team of foster carers in the home ? Then all the information on how to best protect the child would be shared, children are able to have security in their home, attend the same school and stay in the same school.. Mum can have her supervised contact in the home and gradually attend more frequently once she addresses her demons often substance/ alcohol or domestic abuse. Why should the child have the upheaval when they have done nothing wrong? Mum too could then receive the best possible support in supported lodgings where again a team of professionals support her and can share information and asses risk? Social services are so stretched they are often unable to make the regular appointments for both mum and children , in this way the professionals involved would have a far better insight into the needs of the child and hopefully offer more stability for the children ?

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Tracy – you’re completely right that it often feels like the child is being punished for the problems of their parents. Foster Carers going into the home would certainly be a radical solution. I guess recruiting to that kind of role, as well as the funding of it initially, would be the kinds of excuses that would be tabled against the idea. But I think your underlying point is the golden nugget – that the country and the government doesn’t value these children or rate them very highly in the league table of spending priorities. Money IS the issue, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. It nearly always is. Good points well made – thanks for chipping in! Cheers, J. (p.s. if you fancy writing me a guest blog post on this, just email me via the contact page – think it would be really good! :0)

      • Tracy Pike CEO Cyca

        will try not very technical ! re funding i have worked it out this would be much cheaper than placing individual children in care at a cost of £400 per week per child? And we know the children will become more stabilized staying in thir own homes with trusted adults providing consistent care giving and then so many may not end up in the judicial system later on as 73 % do now?? I am passionate about this as you can see and want to lobby somehow!!

        • jonnymatthew

          Fab – it sounds like you’ve got something to say would be useful, inspiring and influential. Let’s do it! Just let me have the text via email and I’ll knock into shape for the web. You can vet the final thing to check you’re happy and we’ll publish it. Your move! :0) Cheers Tracy! J.

          • Tracy Pike CEO Cyca

            hia i have sent it i think” otherwsie just copy and paste what i sent to you? Already spoken to Bethan James corporate parenting she agrees! they pay foster carers £185 a week but i now private agencies charge a lot more! £70 k a yar to keep one child i care with all agencies costs included —–

  • helensparkles

    What makes you think foster carers aren’t told what the LA knows, that information is withheld rather than sometimes not known?

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Helen,
      Sorry, I missed this – hence the delay in replying. You’re right, it can be either, or both. But after working with dozens, maybe hundreds of foster carers, I hear their accounts of information not getting to them. Sometimes because it’s not known, but also-on occasions-because it’s withheld. It happens. And it shouldn’t. I guess that’s my point in the post – that when the information IS known, it should be shared with carers. What are your thoughts?
      Cheers, J.

      • helensparkles

        Foster carers should be given information where it is know and in my experience they are, of course I would always accept that information sharing isn’t always perfect, but that kind of failing is more likely than information being deliberately withheld. Sometimes not very much is know when a child comes into care and foster carers contribute the information about a child.