What do foster carers want?

After responding in-depth to a previous post, I asked Melody Barrow to write her wish list – the things that she and her fellow foster carers want to say to other professionals, particularly to social workers.

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Here’s what she wrote…

I’m a foster carer in Australia.

Jonny asked me to be a voice for foster carers and share some of the ways in which workers and professionals could treat them with more consideration.

Watching the forums, talking to other carers, and my personal experience tell me that some issues are universal.

Because of the unique nature of foster care, sometimes it feels like no-one except another carer could understand. That said, some workers are also carers – that must be harder again!

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What problems do carers have in their professional lives? And what can I suggest to make it better?

1. Avoid dishonesty and lies of omission: We know everyone makes mistakes and we know about confidentiality. If you don’t know something or can’t tell us, don’t cover it over or make something up.

Action: Just tell us the truth. “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer. Or “I forgot to ask,” is OK too. When you write your minutes or reports, do so truthfully – don’t lie, leave things out, embellish or assume.

2. Have our backs! We are out here doing the hard yards on our own a lot of the time. We don’t contact you for frivolous reasons. If we say there’s a problem with the way a child in our care is being treated or managed by services, schools or health professionals, there is. We mean it.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

Action: Don’t minimise the issue, blame the child or place the opinion of others above ours. Others cover their butts or have competing priorities.  You and we are there for the children.  Prioritise that rather than the bruised feelings of fellow professionals.

3. Remember, we aren’t the abuser but the safe place to land. Sometimes professionals get jaded and suspicious of everyone. We have been through a rigorous assessment. We are monitored and scrutinised not just by yourself but every professional.  We are motivated to care. We have to be persistent and resilient to keep going.

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4. Forgive us our imperfections …and our occasional disorganisation and forgetfulness as reparenting is a marathon. Sometimes we are tired. If we are teary or emotional this isn’t a sign of weakness or a fault or a lack of professionalism.

Action: This is the price we pay to care and it’s your job to support not judge. Listen. Listen again. Empathy is key!

5. Say sorry and mean it. Take responsibility for your own errors. Really, just do it. It might be scary for you but it’ll change the way you get along with carers and their charges. I promise.

6. Value our time. We are very busy people. This is an attitude thing, really. Remember it takes us a long time to get our charges out the door and changes to routine are very unsettling. Work to our convenience (mainly that of the children) not to yours. You can be more flexible than we can.

Action: Give us plenty of notice. Turn up on time and leave on time. Don’t cancel unless it’s an emergency.

7. Don’t over-service us or our children. We need you to do what is needed and necessary but no more. It’s nothing personal, but you represent “the system” to our charges. Seeing you or doingthings you need us to do reminds the kids that they aren’t “normal.” It increases anxiety all ’round. Being too present may have opposite effect to your intention. If it feels abnormal to you, it does to them.

Grandparent carer...

8. Don’t be a bean counter. Don’t be stingy with money for things the child needs. Advocate with colleagues from other agencies for the needs of children in foster care: therapy, educational support, tutoring, sports and social pursuits. In some countries dentistry, orthodontistry and medical. If it’s possible to fund it, then please fund it.

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9. Carers need to share and vent. They may use you like a therapist. There are issues of confidentiality.  They aren’t able to share freely or debrief with others. This doesn’t mean the placement is in danger or you need to do anything or intervene.

Actions: Just listen.  If you need to make a record or take action be open and honest with the carer at that time so they know the consequences of their sharing. Don’t panic and don’t run to judgement. It’s probably all fine. If you aren’t sure, ask the carer – they will say. And give them real advice, not platitudes.

10. In all things remember this: 

It’s not politically correct nor something a carer will necessarily tell you BUT the biggest secret is that:

– These children we care for ARE our children. 

– We love them AS OUR OWN.

– When you make a decision to move them on we LOSE A CHILD.

Please don’t take this lightly. It is huge. It is hidden grief. These carers you work with every day carry a grief burden of enormous significance that goes well beyond professional “duty.”

That’s the biggest thing only carers understand. Obviously a return home was always the plan, and they were with us for a short time, the impact is less. But get beyond three months and you’re in painful territory.

Melody Barrow via JonnyMatthew.com”]Foster carers carry a burden of enormous significance that goes well beyond professional “duty.”

11. Don’t question our parenting competence. Our children are ALL high needs,. They need more time and attention than our natural children. They don’t behave “normally” under stress. When you see them, they are ALWAYS stressed. Judgments about how settled or attached to us they are based on your observations when you are with them may well be flawed.

ActionLearn about reparative / therapeutic parenting. And for heaven’s sake leave tick charts and harsh consequences in the office drawer.

We aren’t lenient we are treating the root cause of behaviours. We are working with the child not trying to dominate them. Teaching trust, building relationships and raising functioning adults. We love the unlovable.

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12. Don’t expect miracles (though they can happen). Children don’t recover or improve according to a schedule or timeline. We aren’t failing if our non verbal child fails to become verbal or if our settled trauma child has trauma symptoms recur. Things happen all the time that affect our children.

13. See the whole family. What we do is teamwork. Our wonderful amazing kids (bio and foster), the friends and family who stick around. Please support bio kids as much as you can.

Final word…

Do right by us and you’ll never be short of carers and their support networks. Do wrong, and everyone in a carer’s circle is lost as a potential carer.

Let’s give each other a break and really try working together. Let’s get excited again about what we do.
It’s worth it!

What do you think?

– Are you a foster carer? What would you add to the wish list?

– A social worker? How do you respond to it?

– Please let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

– The State of Foster Care – Fostering Network’s 2016 report…

– Self-care for people looking after troubled children…

– In praise of foster carers…

– Why foster care is the gold standard…

– Why foster carers should have all the information on every child they look after…

– Foster care – agenda for change…

– Fostering & kinship care – new LinkedIn page…

– 10 things foster carers need…

– Myth-busting fostering & adoption…

– Family contact for LAC children…

– Troubled youth: re-writing the ending

Pass it on…

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