What’s it like to be a fostering social worker?

The social worker in the Family Placement Team

We are grateful to M. Bosch-Nevado for this insight into the challenges and frustrations of working as social worker supervising foster carers. 

 

What do I do?

There is a misconception among children’s social workers that fostering social workers don’t work that hard and just drink tea all day; I find that very annoying.

As a supervising social worker for fostering, we must build relationships with foster families; we get to know their household and their own children. We are there to support them all, although we may deal with the female foster carer more than with the male carer. We know the family well and we are in a position to comment on how a child/ren described in a referral may or may not, fit into that specific family.

We work out by the information that we are given from the duty and community teams, who the child may settle with the family, whether the carer can manage transport to school, contact for that child with their birth family and siblings and, most importantly, whether this family can meet their needs, in relation to the needs of other children placed there, ethnicity, transport, eating habits, bedroom space, etc. Sometimes colleagues will be stuck for a placement on duty, but they won’t be aware of the layout of a carer’s home. This can make the difference as to whether a child is placed with in-house carers or an independent agency.

Due to the lack of carers in the local authority, we have to place this children with private agencies at a huge costs for the local authority. I feel frustrated that agencies make money out of child protection issues. The government have a duty of care to all children and these companies should not exist. These private foster carers are motivated by money and not because they want to care and look after the most vulnerable children.

 

How do foster carers feel?

I also get to understand the frustrations that foster carers have, when working with local authorities, like when their views about a child aren’t taken on board. Some feel that they are not treated as professionals and some others complain about the multiple changes in social workers for both them and the children. One of my carers was concerned that, when she spoke to a social worker about her foster child’s wishes not to attend contact with his birth family because of the distress that it was causing him, she was told to encourage him to go and not to be silly. She explained she had done this, but the boy was adamant he didn’t want to go. The relationship between the adults became strained as the foster carers felt that the social worker was suggesting they had influenced the boy’s decision. This was a difficult for them, and for me supporting them through it.

Foster carers often feel angry that, despite being told they are professionals and part of a wider team, they are not treated as such. They feel that some social workers view foster carers as ‘glorified babysitters’ and don’t share all the appropriate information with them. How can they care for the child appropriately if they have not got all the information about the child? How can they protect, manage and support a child through the difficult times? After unsuccessful attempts to reach social workers, foster carers will often speak to the social worker’s manager or, if they feel they are being dismissed, will ask me to deal with it.

Many carers I’ve supervised become disillusioned with the system and social workers who state, during meetings and visits, that they will do things or make referrals to CAMHS, Counselling or any other agency, but then do not do it. One child had to miss a holiday due to a passport application not being completed on time, despite assurances from the social worker that it had been ‘sent off’. What is this message give to the child and the Foster Carer?

 

The pressures of the role

A colleague who joined the team recently from the duty team told me, “they think that the fostering and adoption teams do not do much, have endless cups of tea and have the perception that the social workers who enter these teams are winding down their careers”. Indeed, there weren’t many younger members of staff on that team. Thankfully, things are different in my team there is a range of workers – different ages, experiences and backgrounds.

She said that she used to think that too, but not anymore. She said that “I’ve done more weekends and late nights on this team and taken more work home with me than I had on duty”. Children’s social workers seem to lack awareness about our role; there have been many occasions where they’ve been confused by my presence at meetings.

Due to the high numbers of children coming into care, we feel pressure to complete assessments of foster carers as quickly as possible. This is difficult to manage, because of the in-depth nature of assessments and the other demands of our role: running ‘skills to foster’ training sessions, completing CWDC workbooks with carers, running support groups, duty tasks, completing initial visits and managing our own training and development, attending team meetings, event days to try to recruit more carers, often working evenings and weekends. There aren’t enough hours in the day, especially if you’re part time, like me. I wonder if there really is such a thing as a part time social worker!

It is still common to encounter incredulity from children’s social workers when you say you are very busy. I feel children’s social workers should receive more training about fostering and our role. Many will have children placed with foster carers and if they received helpful advice about what they should avoid doing and what information they should share, and with whom, there would be better relationships all around.

 

A day in in my work life looks like this

8.30am – I arrive at the office and look at my drop, to see if I have been left with any new initial visit files. I print off all the relevant paperwork for the day’s visits and a placement planning meeting. I also check and respond to any urgent emails and messages.

9:30am – I visit the home of someone who is acting as a referee for one of the foster carers I’m currently assessing.

11am – Placement planning meeting for a one year old child at the home of the foster carers. Both foster carers and a social worker from the child safeguarding team are present. No paperwork has yet been provided to the carers. As a priority, I informed the social worker that she needs to provide the foster carers with medical consent for any routine health checks or appointments the child may need.

12.45pm – I no time for lunch because I have to do all the recording in the computer about the visit to the referee, the planning meeting, and some recording that I left to do last week. I create a placement information record on the local social care system, then return calls to foster carers and social workers. I also have a chat to my manager about our upcoming disruption meeting. On a good day I make a point of trying to take a fifteen minute lunch hour, but this is a rare event.

2pm – Disruption meeting. This is a difficult process for foster carers and occurs when placements end abruptly without prior planning. In this instance, the carers asked for their foster child to be moved on. The placement had worked for several years but the carers were struggling to manage the child’s increasingly difficult offending behaviour.

4pm – I speak to the carers following the meeting to give them reassurance and support. I collect the child’s belongings they have brought to pass on to the new carers.

4.15pm – I set off to a supervisory visit with another of my foster carers. I’d have liked to catch up with my manager after the disruption meeting but I was running late.

4.45pm – Supervision visit. The carer is worried about a foster child with complex needs who has been with the family for the past seven years. The girl is now a teenager and issues around online safety, vulnerability and sexual activity are causing concern. I suggest strategies to help keep the young person safe and assure the carer that a social worker has made a referral to a family support worker who can undertake direct work with her. The young person also has ADHD and the carer is concerned about her level of concentration. I suggest speaking to a CAMHS nurse about the dosage of medication and arrange an appointment to discuss emotional health.

6.00pm – I set off home. My first appointment might be visiting a family where a child has recently moved in – most of my visits involve just a short drive When a child is first placed with an adoptive family, the support they receive is fairly intense, but as the family gel together we gradually reduce our involvement if things are going well.

7.30p – I have to go out to do an initial visit to a family that are interested in becoming foster carers. I get back home at 9.15pm, absolutely exhausted and not looking forward to tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *