Alison’s story

The team know my pets have a habit of joining meetings. I usually start the day about 6.00am, reading the morning papers on my phone in bed before I face the world. It is not normally that long before I need caffeine to kick start the day, not a great habit, but most people have one vice and coffee is mine. On a good day I will start the day with some mediation and yoga, - I love YouTube for this, or I use an app on my phone. On a less focused day, the TV goes on for half an hour while I eat my toast and enjoy the quiet time before I get going.

I check emails and sort my to do list before I get my family out of bed, followed not long afterwards with the school run and dog walking. I am a mum of two children, one at primary and one at secondary, so getting them out on time with everything intact and the dogs walked (two large Labrador crosses) is one of my biggest successes of the day. I then hope that my pets are quiet for the working day, however many of our foster families and the team know my pets have a habit of joining meetings! They seem to love the fact that since the start of the pandemic, I now work mostly from home. I on the other hand look back with fondness when I was office based or regularly visiting our families and I did not have to worry about the dog and cat chasing each other under my desk or stealing food from the kitchen when they know I am in a meeting. It’s good that we are getting out and about again, now that restrictions are being lifted.

We prioritise the wellbeing of foster families and our staff

I am usually at my desk by 09.00. I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day front-line work of the social work team. I check how they are doing and if there is anything they need. I meet each social worker regularly to ensure they have some space to talk. Just like our foster families, our team all have at least monthly supervision. This is time dedicated to them, their work, their wellbeing and their development. This time is sacred and should be uninterrupted. Mostly these are booked to take place in the mornings, leaving the rest of the day for the team to focus on our foster families and young people. As an organisation we prioritise the well-being of foster families and our staff. It’s essential we are the best versions of ourselves to do the work our foster carers need us to do to support them. The rest of my morning is divided up between overseeing the matching and placing of young people with our foster carers and supporting new people who want to foster with us. I supervise their journey through their assessment. I support our carers and social workers at meetings about our young people occasionally too. I add my experience to the discussions or requests for resources and occasionally to raise concerns about practice. Most meetings are virtual now and some days I find myself in back-to-back meetings on screen. I like networking, meeting new people and listening to different ways of working. It’s important to keep up to date and ensure that our foster carers and team have access to the best we can offer. I liaise with local authority commissioning teams, ensuring we can provide good solutions for them.

I read at least 20 requests for foster families a day

There is a huge need for more foster carers nationally and local authorities are very keen to discuss how we might be able to help them.  New placement requests come into the agency throughout the day. I read at least 20 requests for foster families a day, reading them thoroughly to understand what the young person’s needs really are. Some referrals I know instantly that we can help with the right family, and some of these young people go on to join us.  Some referrals I read, and I know straight away that we will be unable to help. This is often due to geography and the needs of the child or young person. Sometimes the children present with health needs or limited mobility that require an accessible home with downstairs facilities or they may have complex needs that cannot be met by our families who have a vacancy at that given time. When considering if our foster carers are a match for a child, amongst other things, I take into consideration, where our foster carers live, the people in their family, especially if they have children of their own and their experience of fostering so far.

There is a huge need for more foster carers nationally and local authorities are very keen to discuss how we might be able to help them.

The reading of referrals can be tough, at times very upsetting

Working through the referrals is very often about seeing the young people’s history, and their individual experiences that led them to come into care. I look into their experience of trauma and explore who we have in our organisation that has the space, insight, lifestyle, and environment that can meet the child’s individual needs.  I generally seek more information, going to and fro with the local authority placements team, seeking clarity of what they are looking for, so that we can help our foster carers decide if they can offer a child or young person a home. The reading of referrals can be tough, at times very upsetting, especially when we are unable to offer a foster family. Therefore, I break this time up, so I can remain focused and sensitive to the children’s stories and their needs. By not recognising the impact of doing this kind of work, it can easily be seen as a conveyer belt of children, and a great many professionals subsequently burn out, or become hardened to the impact of trauma and occasionally less empathetic to young people and foster carers.  This sadly can lead to poor matching of children with foster carers or to the normalisation of some of the presentations of children, which to many new foster families, may feel terrifying.  It so important to remain open to possibilities. After reading a few referrals, I might take the dogs out, stop for a coffee and biscuit break – fruit on a good day. This gives me some head space and time away from reading about abuse and neglect- trauma can be overwhelming and self-care must be practised regularly. I try and practice what I preach. There is no shame in talking about the impact of children’s experiences on our foster carers and the whole team. Part of our culture is about recognising that this has an impact on us, because we are human. Subsequently we feel strongly that this should be talked about. Angela and I truly care and when we founded Moon and Back, we were determined that we would make a real difference to how foster carers felt and how staff are supported to be the support that foster carers need to be successful.

Only possible because our foster carers trust us

It is tough to look at who to offer homes to and who we prioritise the available foster carers homes for. In all the referrals I read, I can see a young person’s potential and throughout the process I am speaking with our foster carers and their supervising social workers, before we decide if we can offer a home. It is important that we undertake our matching as a team, it enables a more informed approach, and we feel leads to better matching outcomes for young people as well as our foster carers. No one likes having to end a placement, it’s sad for everyone when this happens, and it means that the child has to move to another family. We subsequently work hard to match as well as we can. We know our families well, but I need others’ opinions to be part of that process. Better decisions are made when there is an environment of different voices being heard in an organisation. This is particularly true when matching children with families. There are times when I see a child or young person that may, at first sight not really fit with the age range or care need that foster carers feel fit well with their family life. This is when I see something in a family, their lifestyle their skills or attitude that means I may offer a referral outside of their previously suggested matching criteria. So often this works very well and is only possible because our foster carers trust us.  We are clear as a team, that matching is a collaborative approach, and although I may suggest a referral of a young person, I always tell carers that there is no pressure to accept the referral. Families need to feel confident and comfortable that they can offer a young person or siblings a home.  Sometimes children need somewhere very quickly, and I may receive the request from a local authority at 9.30 in the morning and they may be with our family by 7pm that night. Some might take weeks of planning and sharing of information. Both approaches work well and if we agree as a team that we have a good match, I talk more with the local authority, ask more questions and usually request a meeting with the child’s social worker and where possible their current foster carer.

We respect that carers should feel ok in saying no to a referral

Where possible I try to attend placement meetings before we commit to taking a young person, to support our foster carers. This is not always possible however, especially when there is a short timescale for when the placement is needed. Foster carers in this situation, may need to make a decision purely on the information written on the referral. It is for that reason we respect that carers should feel ok in saying no to a referral. If the young person is going to join us, I then respectfully take a step back and leave the planning and introductions to our supervising social worker and our foster carer. They are better placed at doing the detail of the planning. I can support if needed

It is important that we give an honest account of fostering

I try and stop and have lunch about 1pm with my husband, who now also works from home, before we both head back into our respective rooms and start the afternoon work.   My afternoon often includes meetings with our team of independent social workers who undertake the assessments of families wanting to foster. They are a great team and we have built strong relationships with them to prepare and assess the families joining our agency. I meet up with them to check in how assessments are going, and I facilitate meetings for assessors to get to know more about our culture and the way we support our team. It’s important that they can inform our new foster carers about us as part of the assessment, as well as about what fostering involves.  I like to keep up to date on the progress of our new families going through assessment, so that I can plan for panel meeting dates and ensure that the training required during assessment is all in place for the new families. I lead our Skills to Foster training, which is a mandatory part of preparing new families for what fostering might be like. This used to be done, pre-covid, over a weekend, face to face in our office. We now do this in a 6-week block virtually, with each session lasting about 2-3 hours. I call on colleagues to support me too, to enable new foster carers to get to know the team, but we also involve our foster carers too. The sessions with our foster carers go down really well, with lots of helpful hints and sharing of experiences. We use case studies to prepare for each session. These enable families to think about what fostering might be like for them. It is important that we give an honest account of fostering, the positive and wonderful things but also the reality of the challenges. Some people at this stage may decide that fostering isn’t for them after all. I may then support the family with their assessor to end their assessment process and ensure that they feel positive about it. We work hard as a team to engage people with what fostering might mean for them. We do not rush enquirers to decide, we give them the time needed to explore and find out everything they need to know, so that they feel comfortable. Becoming a foster carer is a huge decision, and we owe it to every person who makes an enquiry, to treat them with respect and support them from the very outset, helping them to make the right decision for them and their family.

I love watching Disney Channel

I try to switch of my laptop by 5pm and give my family some time. My phone is always on as I am part of the on the 24-hr support on call team to our families, and I am available should the team be out on visits and they need to check in.  I love watching a bit of Disney channel with my daughter, and if I am lucky my teenage son may grunt in my direction and give me a bit of time to tell me about his day. After a family meal and some down time, it’s off to bed for about 10pm, ready to start the day again.

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