Why foster carers deserve more respect

And how the rest of us can give it...

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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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.

                                    They have the kids they work with living in their home.

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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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.

Related previous posts:

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© Jonny Matthew 2016


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

  • Anon

    Brilliant article, very wise words. I am a kinship carer without a biological link to the three siblings I foster. They were returned to us out of the blue, after two years with other carers. We had had them with us for two years, then had to move for our family reasons, and they were not allowed to come with us. We resigned as carers and then they phoned us out of the blue and asked us to consider having them back and be assessed as kinship carers. Of course, we said yes. This decision was made **in the best interest of the child** – of which we are so proud of our agency for suggesting and following through with. They have been an incredible support to the children and us. The move went smoothly and the kids have settled with us like they’ve never been away. They had had exceptional carers in the two intervening years, and I take my hat off to them – we are good friends with them.
    I def believe there are some foster agency workers out there who are doing the steps you suggested for carers – good people who recognise that the carer is on the front lines. We have been proud to know a few of them!

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Anon :0) I completely agree! The fact that there is a long way to go in affording carers the respect and fair treatment they deserve, does NOT mean that there aren’t some superbly committed and gifted people around who are swimming against the tide. Thanks for the reminder! Congrats on your situation – sounds like it all worked out well for everyone. Appreciate you sharing it! Cheers, Jonny.

  • Melody Barrow

    Just don’t lie to us or about us. Don’t put words in our mouths when reporting. Don’t pass the blame to us for your mistakes. Don’t take our honesty about our struggles as a sign that you need to jump in and remove children. Don’t make us complicit in lies to children (I have seen professionals of many kinds use untruths and hard truths to elicit compliance). Be trustworthy so we can encourage our charges to trust you. Sorry for all the dont’s I normally try to use positive language. But in this case these behaviours just need to stop.

    • Jonny Matthew

      Brilliant – very well put, Melody. I take it you’re foster carer? All too often carers are over-blamed and under-valued! Thanks for commenting. Cheers, J.

      • Melody Barrow

        Yes that’s right. Trauma kids have trouble enough with honesty if we don’t midel it we are in trouble.