Troubled kids need help. But what is the best way to do this?
I’ve worked with kids in a number of roles, including: as a youth worker, a social worker, a case manager, a court officer, a therapist, as a YOT supervising officer and review meeting chair.
But I reckon there’s one approach, one role that beats them all.
Why foster care is the gold standard of child care…
Children raised in the crucible of poverty, domestic violence, neglect, trauma and abuse have huge problems to overcome. Among them are:
- Attachment issues
- Behavioural concerns
- Mental health problems
In order to deal with these, the context in which the child or young person lives is paramount. If the living environment isn’t right, efforts to intervene will be ineffective.
This is why foster care is the gold standard.
What foster care offers…
There are some characteristics of fostering that set it apart. Here are a few:
- Family – a foster placement is the nearest thing to a family setting a child or young person can experience outside of the birth family. Aside of the many specific needs they may have, this kind of setting sets the tone and context for recovery like no other.
- Community – not only does the surrogate family model offer so much in itself, it exists in a wider community. So young people in foster care get more than a second family, they get a community too. Family friends, friends of friends, neighbours and others.
- Acceptance – when a child is placed with foster carers, there’s a message they get that other settings can’t offer: “We’re prepared to welcome you into our house, our family and our lives. That’s how much we care.” For children from troubled histories, acceptance is essential.
- Commitment – there is something uniquely “giving” about accepting a child – someone else’s child – into your home. This quality of commitment is lacking in any other kind of alternative living provision. These setting give benefits (bed, roof, food, etc.), foster care gives people and a home.
- Stability – whilst some placements do not last, many do. Either way, this home, these people and this “family” unit is a permanent feature. It was in place before I came to live here. And it will go on. It offers the possibility of permanence.
Each of these features exists in other settings. But not to the same extent. The family unit – however constituted – offers the best example of each.
We’ve addressed this before in another post but it bares repeating here.
These are the three broad contextual features that fostering can offer like no other living environment.
They are also the main stays of a good attunement relationship, which is key for good attachment:
1. CONSISTENCY – Children from troubled backgrounds need to know that we’re consistent…
2. PREDICTABILITY – Children need us to be predictable…
3. RELIABILITY – Children need us to be reliable…
It is the ability of foster care to cater best to the attachment needs of young people in care that makes it the gold standard.
Where lives have been disrupted, damaged and difficult, foster care offers the chance of stability, affection and inclusion – like no other setting.
We can’t ever fully replace a birth family. But we can offer the next, nearest, best thing – a surrogate family.
A place where all the features of “normality” are present and where children have a chance to make up lost ground.
This is why, in my view, fostering is the gold standard for children in care.
What do you think?…
- Please let me know your thoughts about foster care… If you’re a carer, what’s missing from this piece?
- Leave a comment below or click here.
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© Jonny Matthew 2015