What are you most looking forward to, having joined our team?
From what I have heard and seen so far, the agency appears very child focussed, but also very keen to listen to and work alongside foster carers to achieve the best for children. I am looking forward to being part of that and of course to meet your foster carers and hear about their experiences. It’s always lovely to have new carers return to the panel after their first year and hear about all the warmth, care, nurture and fun that they have offered children and the progress the children have made in their care.
The independent Panel process is a big part of the foster carer approval process, how do you see your role in ensuring the process is a successful experience for our new foster carers?
I hope it won’t feel like The Dragon’s Den! I occasionally have to present to panels myself, so I do know what it feels like and I too get nervous. I hope to make the experience as friendly and comfortable as possible. I believe that you get the best from people when they are relaxed. I try to make sure that new applicants don’t feel as if they are being interrogated, rather that we are having a conversation about their wish to be foster carers, about their expectations and how their life experiences might be relevant when fostering.
There are some regulatory checks as part of the assessment and at panel we make sure these have all been completed, although as far as possible I will check this before the panel.
As I am independent of the agency, I’m also interested to hear about new applicants’ experience of the assessment and I can use this, to give feedback to the agency about ways to improve the process.
What do you feel are the most important aspects of your role as leader of the panel during foster carer’s annual reviews?
Well, I do have to make sure that all the regulatory aspects have been met, but for me the most important part of the annual review is to hear about the foster carers’ experiences caring for children, their learning through this experience and about the support they have received from the agency.
Different panel members may be interested in different aspects of the fostering experience and so my role is to make sure that all panel members have the opportunity to ask the questions they want. Panel members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and include foster carers and those who were formerly looked after. The strength of the panel is in drawing on all that expertise when making recommendations.”
How have you seen the role of foster carers change over the years you have been involved in the sector and what are your hopes for the future of fostering?
I have been a social worker for over 30 years, most of them working with children and families and in fostering. I have seen huge changes in that time. I think in the early years there was an assumption that having a warm, clean home and good physical care was enough. There are certainly more regulations and checks now and much more emphasis on safe care, but also on good support. There is also much more training available for foster carers and certainly in the last 10 years or so, the focus has been on providing therapeutic parenting and building attachments with children. In this way I think that the foster carer role is much more professional, with carers working alongside all the other professionals in the team around the child. My hopes for the future are that the types of support available to foster carers and children in their care broadens and is more readily available (especially support with children’s mental health). I also hope that the pool of foster carers can be broadened, by recruiting more foster carers from a variety of minority groups.
We hear such a lot about foster carers feeling undervalued in some organisations but unable to make the change and transfer to another fostering agency for fear of things being no different when they have moved. What advice can you give to foster carers who may be thinking they need to transfer?
I think firstly you should be honest with your existing agency about feeling undervalued, to see if they can better support you, but then if nothing changes, start looking at what other agencies can offer and if they can better meet your needs. Think about what you want from an agency and ask lots and lots of questions of any new agency. Maybe ask some ‘what if’ questions. See if it’s possible to meet any existing foster carers from the agency, attend as many events available in a new agency as possible, so that you get ‘a feel’ for how things operate. If you are unhappy, don’t feel afraid to make that leap. There is a lot of variation between agencies but fundamentally you want an agency that appears very child focussed, one that respects, listens and works alongside its carers in a cooperative way and one that offers regular good quality training.
What is the best advice you have been given?
To think about what it must feel like for a child being moved from everything they know, and being placed with strangers; to try and place yourself in the child’s shoes. It’s simple advice that seems so obvious, but so easy to forget when managing all the other tasks that come with being a foster carer or social worker.
What is your best advice to newly approved foster carers?
To remember that asking for support and guidance when fostering is seen as a strength and not a failure, so don’t bottle things up! Use your supervising social worker to off load when you need to.
Also, to accept that nobody is perfect, and you don’t have to be. We all get things wrong sometimes, but the important thing is to be willing to discuss, reflect and learn from these experiences.
What advice can you give to foster carers?
Be willing to explore why a child might be behaving in a certain way, because having that understanding really can make it easier to manage and don’t take it personally, even if it feels very personal! (I know that is harder than it sounds). Be willing to try different approaches, as one size doesn’t fit all. Use the support offered and be kind to yourself, try to take a bit of time out to do something for you every now and then.