Surely foster carers know everything they need to know before a child comes to live with them… Don’t they?
Well, no. Not always.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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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