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.