If I was asked to describe my day as a Supervising Social Worker, the answer would be in short “No two days are the same!”. I believe that my role is to provide the best guidance and support to new and existing foster families so that they can navigate through their unique fostering journey and to ensure that they operate within the established rules and regulations governing their fostering practice.

I carry out home visits – I might be visiting families in their homes for regular monthly supervision which can take a minimum of 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on how many children the foster family is looking after and how things are going. This will not be my only contact with the foster family. We will often communicate on regular basis via email, telephone and text messages. Good communication between the foster carers and I is crucial and cannot be stressed enough.

During the home visit, we might be talking about many things and no supervision visit is the same. The focus is on the children’s progress, looking at the different areas of their development, such as health, education, emotional wellbeing, learning new skills including independence skills and so on… I will often also focus on the foster family itself, the foster carers, their children and their wider support network. How are they finding things, are they coping well, how is the working relationship with the Local Authority, what is it they need support and help with? Together we try to identify their strengths and work on areas that need developing. The monthly supervision visit is documented in a Supervision record, signed off and the foster family keep a copy for their files.

 

The foster carers attend regular meetings with the Local Authority social workers, such as the Placement Agreement meeting, when a child is initially placed into their care, or the Looked After Children’s Meeting and Personal Educational Plan Meetings. The latter two are equally important as the Looked After Children’s meeting reviews the children’s care plan in place and the Personal Educational Plan meetings provide an opportunity for the foster carers to ensure that children receive the necessary support to meet their educational potential.

Depending on the care planning for the children in their care, there might also be Long term linking meetings taking place or, if the plan for the children is to be moved on to their adoptive family, meetings with the Adoption Social Workers. I will regularly accompany foster carers to these meetings and support them in advocating on behalf of the children in their care. Foster carers are professionals in their own right. It is therefore important that they feel empowered and confident to share their knowledge of the children they look after and hence contribute to the care planning for the children’s future and actively shape the children’s educational achievement.

 

Paperwork is a necessary and an important part of the fostering role. I might be supporting foster carers with completing their daily logs until they feel confident and comfortable with their style and detail of their recording.  We will also regularly review risk assessments and the foster family’s Safer Caring Plans to ensure that their practice is safe and everybody in the family is appropriately safeguarded.

Often, it is required that foster carers provide input into assessments such as sibling assessments and psychological assessments which inform court decisions and some foster carers like to have assistance with their input to ensure that the most comprehensive information is provided for the involved professionals.

Depending on how long the foster carers have fostered, an annual fostering household review has to be completed, which requires a significant amount of data collection to provide evidence and feedback from other professionals and support networks to reflect on the carers’ fostering year. The preparation for their annual review provides an opportunity to check compliance, renew required DBS checks and medicals and review personal development.  The review is a joint piece of work and if this is the first annual review for the foster family, it is presented to an independent fostering panel, which I attend with the foster carers.

Whilst the above outlines the day to day practical activities that I would usually be involved in with foster families, another equally important role of the supervising social worker is to develop and grow the foster families’ understanding of relational and developmental trauma and attachment and the ongoing impact of this on the children they are looking after.

When foster families become trauma and attachment informed and translate their knowledge into their day to day life, this can have the most transformative effect on children who have been through adverse experiences in their lives.

Supporting foster families with expanding their “tool box”, watching them build their resilience and develop self-care strategies, whilst maintaining commitment, stability and continuity of care for the children is, for me, the most rewarding part of the work.

 

 

The provision of appropriate support to foster carers is an unquestionable function of a supervising social worker (SSW) but an area of significant debate, given that a foster carers deemed lack of support often results in them leaving the fostering sector. Given then the high level of significance of this role on foster carers, it is important to understand the role and what can be expected from the person in this role.

As a foster carer you will hear lots about this role. The supervising social worker, in whatever fostering service you choose, is the named social worker within a fostering service who works alongside a foster carer family. In some organisations this role may be referred to as a link worker.

Because of the very nature of the day to day responsibilities of the supervising social worker, there are key elements of role that are requirements of the Fostering Regulations. If the SSW does not undertake these functions, then someone else with the organisation is required to do so.

The supervising social worker undertakes a different role to the local authority social worker. The LA social worker role acts in the best interests of the child, making the big plans for the child living in care. These plans for the child may include, education, health, decisions about returning home to their birth parents, having contact or moving on long term to perhaps adoption. The child’s social worker will always work for the local authority that the child comes from.

Once approved, every fostering family must be allocated a named supervising social worker from the fostering agency. Their purpose is to guide, signpost, develop and act as a positive role model for foster carers, protecting the carers interests and supporting their wellbeing, all whilst monitoring closely the outcomes for the child(ren).

Fundamentally as a team, each one of us, regardless of our role is working towards achieving the best outcomes for the children in our care. The supervising social worker however gets closest to the foster carers and with the support of the team, has the most influence on the success of the foster carers in their role. Their ability to lead, coach, teach, empathise and empower the foster carers can seriously affect the success of the foster carers. Consistency in this role is very important and sadly with so many social workers feeling stressed and unsupported themselves, the consistency is often not as good as it should be with social workers taking sick leave or leaving altogether. This is a sad indictment of the industry and the provision of support for social workers is equally vital.

The role of the manager, of the supervising social workers, is to ensure that the SSW has the right support, tools, time and flexibility to support the foster family and provide the leaders of the organisation with timely feedback about the service and outcomes for the children in order that we can all work to improve the service continuously. At To the Moon and Back we empower our SSW’s to make decisions quickly and ensure our managers to provide more than just a monitoring/supervisory role.  We believe our work is about making and sustaining valued relationships with everyone around us and this includes our supervising social workers. In order for them to be successful they need to feel valued themselves.  They are the main point of contact for our foster families to know what is going on in the agency and to deal quickly with any concerns, queries or feedback.

Regulations require the supervision of foster carers to take place on a monthly basis. This is undertaken by the appointed SSW in the foster carer’s home. During this formal meeting, the SSW will lead discussion about the foster child/young person and monitor that they are getting the care they need in conjunction with their care plan. Monthly meetings are the bare minimum, the high level of support of foster carers doesn’t just happen. It involves effective two way communication that works well for everyone, an individualised approach, openness and sharing of self, approachability, the ability to stretch the foster carers’ professional development, being challenging when required and being ready to catch foster carers if they fall. All of which, when in place, builds trust and creates an equal relationship.  At to the Moon and Back we use texts, phone calls, skype and face time on top of mandatory monthly visits. We want families to know they are not alone in the fostering task.

The monthly meetings provide allocated space and time to reflect on the month, on what has happened, how foster carers are feeling, review the impact of the work undertaken and overall determine what might be changed to continue the placements success. In between monthly meetings, it may be necessary to meet up again and the role of the SSW is to continually review priorities and provide more time and support where needed.  The monthly visit should be written up and signed every month by the supervising social worker and the foster carer. The notes help us remember what we have all agreed to do. Supervising social workers must visit at least monthly and complete at least one unannounced visit to a foster carer’s home per year.

Once you are approved to foster with us, your SSW will introduce you to keeping records, including our CHARMS system, where all the children’s records are kept and where our carers complete their dally logs.  Your supervising social worker will talk you through key policies and procedures and show you how to access the foster carer’s handbook, answering any questions you may have. The first few visits whilst waiting for a suitably matched child will be focusing on preparation for your first placement, and increasing your knowledge. Most of our foster carers have children placed relatively quickly after their approval. Some within a week have had their first child move in. Your supervising social worker will be active in helping match you with a suitable child. They should be the people who know you well and as such be able to assist the team on what is likely to work and what may not, given your individual circumstances and ambitions. You and your supervising social worker should have input to and agree with decisions on potential placements.

The SSW’s key role, within our service, is to get to know you, your family and your foster child/ren. We support them to be your coach, inspiring you, in your work, helping you think and understand about what has happened to the child in your care, enabling you to plan their care. The supervising social worker provides a safe space to talk about the young person that you have got to know and how they are developing and also how they impact on you and your family. We see our foster carers as equal professionals who bring to the partnership a unique insight in to a foster child. Your supervising social worker should monitor your wellbeing and that of your family and work creatively to help you develop the best ways forward to support the child. This might be, by thinking about extending your support network, building your skills through access to webinars, training or other fostering networks. They should be considering the needs of your own children and family and support you to manage their transition to fostering.

Supervising social workers play a liaison role with the child’s social care team. We support you to focus on the child and their needs, to keep social workers up to date with changes and to respond to requests from the child’s social worker for information. Our supervising social workers take the lead in chasing up care plans, and ensuring we have the best information to understand and support a child. Supervising social workers will lead where we need to challenge a team, for example when there is a need to increase access to services or request increased funding for a young person. Your supervising social worker will walk alongside and support you in your role.

Lots of fostering services will make promises about the support offered to foster carers and we are no different. Support is an individualised thing. We are clear on how we provide support but it is a broad term so it is important that foster carers understand what will be available for them, ensuring their expectations will be met.

At To The Moon and Back we are proud of the level of professional support we give our families. We expect our team to care about those they work with. Ofsted in our recent inspection stated that our foster carers describe strong support from the agency. We do not believe in propping our families up at any cost but working proactively and in partnership to get the best outcomes for our children, this means helping families build their skills whether that it is by developing recording skills on our system CHARMS, or by developing knowledge on the impact of trauma on children and in particular the child in your care. We believe in providing knowledge that is practical, for example helping families develop techniques to support a child to manage trauma by enabling the child to learn new ways of expressing the hurt they have felt.

Accessing feedback from foster carers is a key role of our supervising social workers. We focus on the meeting of individualised needs within a foster family. We work to a foster carer’s charter setting out our expectations of foster families as well as what families can expect in return from us. We encourage open and honest communication and aim to have happy supported carers, knowledgeable and confident in their role as we believe that leads to longer lasting placements and more young people achieving their true potential in life.