Three quarters of children in the Looked After system are living with foster parents.
Foster carers provide this country with an unequalled service.

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Alena Yakusheva (adapted)

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Alena Yakusheva (adapted)

So why are foster carers not more respected?

(This post also applies to kinship carers, though as family members the dynamic is slightly different)

I love it when I get in from work. I close the door, feel the warmth of home washing over me and flop down on the settee. Lovely!
The rigours of working with troubled children makes the comforts of home all the more delightful.
But what has this got to do with foster care?…
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Condescension…

I’ve seen it dozen’s of times – social workers (and others) not affording foster carers the respect they deserve.
It goes like this:

  • Key information about the child’s past or behaviour is witheld from carers
  • Carers are excluded from key meetings about the child/ren
  • They are not consulted about case decisions
  • And when their views are given anyway, they’re not really listened to
  • The demands of fostering are not matched by appropriate supports
  • Carers pay is not commensurate with the work they do

In short, foster carers are treated as less than professional.
If you want to shout at me and disagree with this – fine. But most of the carers I speak to will be shouting their agreement. And this is about them. Not the rest of us.
Therein lies the problem.

What we don’t know…

I reckon there’s one central issue that keeps many of us from viewing and treating foster carers as equals.
It’s the one thing that the rest of us will never get. No matter how hard we try, it’s one thing that they know, that we can’t know.
[callout]                                     They have the kids they work with living in their home.[/callout]
That’s it. They have the kids they work with living in their home. Their home, becomes the home of someone else’s child.
I’ve never done that. Have you?
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Respect…

You see, foster carers don’t get to come in from work, close the door and crash out. When they get home, they’re in work. All the time.
If for no other reason, they deserve our respect for this.
But because of this, because they live with the children, there are other reasons for us to respect foster carers:

  • They know the child better than we do. Always. They see them at all times of day, in all moods, the highs and the lows. We work with the kids. Foster carers know them.
    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

  • They care about the kids more than we do. Probably. Let’s face it – opening your home is a commitment beyond what most of us would ever consider getting in to.
  • They are more invested in the child’s progress than us. They have skin in the game. They ride the rollercoaster with the child. As a result, they have insight we’ll never have.

These three things alone mean foster carers are our equals professionally when it comes to caring for these children.
More than that. As well as doing their job they can add massive value to help us do our job.

So what should we do?…

Two things:

  1. Change our attitude to foster carers.
  2. Change the way we work with foster carers.

Here are a few things we can do to:

  • Share information – if you know it, is there really a good reason why the child’s carer shouldn’t know it? I can’t think of one. If the child lived with me, I’d want to know it all.
    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Iserg

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Iserg

  • Ask and listen – consult carers on matters connected with the care plan for the child. Take their views seriously. Very seriously – for all those reasons listed above.
  • Defer to them – when there’s doubt about a matter relating to the child, we’d be wise to put more store by what the carer thinks than by what we think. Ditto.
Stuck with what to do with a troubled child or young person? Help is at hand – click here…

Final word…

The best way to level the playing field and afford carers their rightful place as professional equals, is to treat them that way.
They don’t need our condescension. They need a change in the way we behave.
Most of all – when we get this right, the children that we all serve, will get a better service. And isn’t that what this is all about?
So next time you come in from work and flop down on the settee, spare a thought for all those foster carers who, when they get home, are still in work…

What do you think?…

  • If you’re a carer, what do you want? What can the rest of us do better? 
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2016