Fostering and kinship care is a huge commitment. I take my hat off to those who do it!

Like any such role, these guys need all the support they can get. So…

So how can we help most?…

I’m not a foster carer. My experience of fostering extends only to the pre-adoption fostering of my two children. This is different.

Foster carers are professional carers. It’s their job to care. They have other people’s kids – often very troubled kids – living in their own homes.

It’s a 24/7 commitment!

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I sat for several years on a fostering and adoption panel. I currently support carers facing allegations and have placed many children in foster care. It’s the accumulation of this experience that gives me such respect for those who choose to foster.

The following list comes from many conversations with foster carers over the years. It is not intended to be critical of social workers (I am one!), but rather as a foil to encourage practice development…

What foster carers need from their social worker…

  • Respect – this is the first and arguably the most important thing of all. Carers are professionals who devote their time to looking after children. They are equals. They deserve respect. This will be evident not just in what we say, but in the way we treat our colleagues who foster…
  • Information – there are never any good reasons to withhold information about children from foster carers. Never. If we respect them, we will share the information with them. If you were having a child move into your home, wouldn’t you want all the information. So would I…
  • Supervision – yes, I know we all know this. But sometimes supervision isn’t prioritised. It becomes sporadic, informal to the point of insignificance and, therefore, irrelevant. Supervision should be a non-negotiable priority in every supervising social worker’s diary. Full stop. It should be regular, planned, recorded and generate actions.
  • Listening – despite our tendency to think so, social workers aren’t the experts on the kids on their case loads. We barely spend any time with them – at least not compared to those they live with. The opinions of foster carers should be actively sought, recorded and afforded the weight they deserve. Always.

The views of foster carers should be actively sought, recorded & afforded the weight they deserve. Always.

  • Inclusion – foster carers have a great deal to offer by way of insight into children. Yet planning meetings and similar forums often take place without carers being present. When we visit carers to tell them what’s happening, we’ve already missed a trick. And it’s patronising. Consultation and inclusion must extend to those who foster.
  • Encouragement – looking after troubled kids can be very wearing. Not least when they live with you. The last thing carers need is criticism. At least when it’s not balanced by the positives. Social workers have a unique opportunity to offer positive encouragement for good practice – so let’s be deliberate and do more of it!


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  • Cash – one of the biggest frustrations for carers is when their money isn’t paid consistently. The complexities of the LAC system in general and fostering in particular, mean it can be tricky to get this right. But it’s really important to make it a priority. How can carers feel respected and valued when their pay gets messed around so much?
  • Catharsis – we all need someone to talk to and off-load onto about the challenges we face. Foster carers are no different. But their responsibility towards confidentiality means their social worker has a unique role in this. Sometimes we all need to just moan, blow-out and get things off our chests. We need to facilitate this for foster carers, too.
  • Empathy – a bit of empathy goes a long way. When carers are facing challenges, someone who listens and just understands is a real help. We don’t always need to comment and offer advice.  But a bit of good ol’ fashioned empathy goes a long way. Sometimes a nod of agreement – a human response – is good enough.
  • Advocacy – no-one in the agency knows the carers as well as the supervising social worker (usually!). So whilst they have a monitoring role, the SSWQ should also speak up for and advocate on behalf of the foster carers. Pushing for financial consistency, good quality training and regular respite are just a few examples of this.
  • Respect – I know, we said this already! But I think it is the nub of the issue. If we truly respected foster carers, we’d treat them differently than is often the case. Those of us who are social workers and managers in fostering contexts do well to lay aside our pride for a moment and ask what we could do better to practice and promote respect for foster carers…

This list is not intended to be critical of my social work colleagues in fostering. On the contrary, there is loads of really good practice going on.

But like any other aspect of caring for troubled kids, let’s see where we can raise our game and boost those who’s commitment extends beyond all of ours – foster carers themselves.

Final word…

I’ve said this many times before, but I believe foster and kinship carers are, without doubt, some of the most admirable people I’ve ever met. The commitment they pour into caring for children is inspirational.

I also know that the social work role is a challenging one – and is increasingly stretched in these days of austerity.

So let’s work hard to keep the standard of fostering high, by offering carers the best possible service we can – as they care for the children we all work to help!

What do you think?…

  • Please let me know your thoughts about supporting foster carers… If you’re a carer, what’s missing from the list above?
  • Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2015

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