Sunday, 15 February 2015


Fostering is definitely not a career to get into if you're a private person. The assessment process is long and intrusive, asking every detail about your life - including very personal matters such as past partners, health issues, IVF journey or miscarriages, reactions to traumatic events or bereavements, finances including any debts or bankruptcy, and if you're in a couple they will even cover your sex life. These are not matters anyone is used to discussing with someone they don't know well, and it can be very uncomfortable. Any skeletons in the closet will be uncovered and laid open, and although your social worker will be sensitive, it can be awkward at times.

You'd think this would be the end of the intrusion, but it's just the beginning!

With two children in placement and space for a third we barely have a week go by without a professional at our house. Our social worker Jane visits every 2-3 months, the children's social workers visit every 6 weeks, we have visits from health visitors, portage, dieticians, speech therapists, independent reviewing officers and court appointed guardians. Any of these can also bring a student at any time!

Contact is an intrusion on family life whether it occurs in the family home or not. We organise our lives around our children's contact sessions and are scrutinised by the birth parents and the contact supervisors on the clothes we send the children in, the car seat we've provided, the snacks we send for them, the information we choose to write in the contact book, even down to the brand of nappies and wipes.

We had a lady from portage come to see Belle recently. She arrived on a day when Peter was unwell and off school, and Peter and I were building a marble run together. The portage lady came into the living room, looked genuinely surprised, and said "oh it's lovely that you take an interest in the children." Excuse me? What on earth was she expecting?

Above all, there is the constant scrutiny and feeling of being judged by everyone - social workers, parents, health visitor, therapists, school, and even random people who know that the child is looked after. For some reason, when a child is looked after people feel that they have a right to comment on their upbringing as part of some sort of shared social responsibility. You wouldn't believe the questions and comments that are said to us with the children standing right there.

The good news is that local authorities have a policy that fostering shouldn't interfere with family life, as a stable family life is exactly what looked after children need. We are allowed to, and have, requested for meetings and contact sessions to be rearranged to fit in with family plans. We have a LAC review for Belle at our house this week and because it's half term, Peter will be present. We've warned everyone that we don't know how he will cope with having his living room full of strangers, and if it looks like it's having a negative effect on him we will end the meeting early and rearrange.

Having a lack of privacy is one thing for us as adults, but we still need to advocate for the children we care for and make sure that being in a fostering family and having our lives open for surveillance is not negatively affecting them.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

You can pick your friends...

...but you can't pick your social worker!*

The longer we foster and the more social workers we meet, the more grateful we become of our wonderful supervising social worker Jane. We were really fortunate that Jane was also the social worker who assessed us, so she has known us since we first did our "Skills to Foster" training and has been alongside us right through our fostering journey. She does everything in her power to make sure we feel listened to and supported. She's patiently sat through many a rant and has always managed to stay sympathetic - quite an achievement! Of course she's limited by the policies and budgets of the local authority, but we understand that and are able to separate her support of us from the "no" she unfortunately has to say quite often.

For a short term placement we don't have much say in the matter - duty phones us, we discuss the child's needs and details, and we make a decision. We don't usually speak to or meet the child's social worker until the child is placed. It's a lottery - we definitely drew the short straw with Jack-Jack's social worker but have been extremely blessed with Belle's. She gets back to us quickly, is on the ball with organising things that Belle needs, and it's clear that she genuinely cares about her.

For long term/permanency placements we're able to be much more discerning as there are (should be!) multiple conversations and meetings with the child's social worker before the child is placed. This is a person that we will potentially have to work with for the next 15 years so it's important that we feel that they're going to do basic things like reply to messages quickly, work with us to provide things that the child needs, and that they really care about the child achieving and progressing. As we are planning to specialise as disability carers this is even more important as the child's needs are greater, their social worker is not a specialist in their condition, and children with additional needs typically stay with their carers until they're 24 rather than 18, so the relationship with the social worker can be even longer!

Some social workers are a bit like salesmen. We met with one recently about a potential permanent placement who has a disability. He stayed for nearly two hours, and by the end of this we didn't know any more about the child than the basic details we had found out over the phone from Jane. The conversation was peppered with "she's a lovely child", "she's beautiful inside and out", and "people are drawn to her". Any detailed questions we asked about her condition and how it affects her day to day were deflected - he clearly didn't know and hadn't taken the time to find out from her current carers. We've decided not to pursue the placement for several reasons, but this was definitely taken into consideration which is sad for the child as it's nothing to do with them and could get in the way of a great match with the right carer.

*Of course as a carer if you don't get on with your social worker you can request a different one, and if a child's social worker isn't doing their job correctly there is a complaints process that the child, parent or carer can follow.