ADVICE FOR CARERS
Advice for foster carers: managing professional relationships
At a glance
- As a foster carer, what approach do you take to managing your professional relationships?
- What does managing that relationship while remaining professional look like?
- How important is it to keep professional boundaries in place?
- What specific tips do you have for foster carers to help them manage their professional relationships?
- What tips do you have for maintaining good relationships, for example, with teachers and schools?
When you become a foster carer you don’t just welcome a young person into your home, you welcome a range of professionals – and professional relationships – into your life, too.
Social workers, foster care agency representatives, doctors, teachers, people from the local authority — the list can be quite long. But don’t let that idea overwhelm you. Ultimately, every individual and organisation that make up the professional network around you and your young person should all have the same goal in mind — achieving the best possible outcomes for you and your young person.
But you, as a foster carer, are a professional, too. And you’re not just managing the needs of your young person, you also need to manage the other professional relationships that are important to you and your young person.
In this article, one of Lika’s foster carers, Sandjea — who has been a foster carer for many years — shares her tips and advice for managing your professional relationships.
Here’s what she had to say.
“Definitely one of my approaches, which I do in everything, which is very much through a professional lens, is I try to be as relational as possible for my difficult relationships,” Sandjea said.
“For example, I try to prioritise relationship building, rapport building, with the independent reviewing officer. I want them to be an ally. If there’s a court appointed guardian, I take the same approach for them.
“In my last long-term placement, I had exploitation workers and police liaison officers and SENCO and tutors and camp workers. It was a very long list of professionals around my young person, and I needed them to work for her, so I invested in a relational approach with all of those people.
“That’s not what I would normally do. Normally I would prioritise the child, social worker and the independent reviewing officer, and that would probably be about it. But for her, it needed to be all of them. I needed them to go the extra mile for her.”
“A lot of these professionals are coming into your home and whether they’re police officers or they’re social workers or they’re exploitation workers, whoever they are, they’ve all been trained to not take tea, to think about health and safety, to think about emergency exits, to not impose, to not breach their professional boundaries, all of that stuff,” Sandjea said.
“I do want to try to break that down. I will always offer tea and coffee, offer a drink, offer them an elaborate list of herbal teas or coffees or whatever. And bit by bit, they do break it down.
“All of those things allow you to share where you live and to make it a little bit more human and to create opportunities to make it human.”
“It’s about taking an interest both in their professional and their personal life, but not too much, because I want a boundary,” she said. “There have been times in the past when, at the beginning, I’ve gotten that wrong and the professional has overshared.
“The longer your placement is and the more stable the professionals are, the easier it is to build a relationship and rapport that can keep the professional boundaries.”
Sandjea said it was still important to remember that these are professional relationships, and not to become overly familiar with your professional network.
“One thing that I do with all of them is put everything in writing,” Sandjea said. “I assume that I’m going to need a paper trail. I’m going to need an evidence trail. I’m going to make those emails as short as possible. No more than three lines, where possible.
“There are many times in a professional relationship where you need to bring heat and they need to know that you are serious. I think it’s really important that all foster carers both understand that they themselves are professionals who need to be taken seriously, but they also need to understand that the professionals they’re talking to are human beings and nothing’s going to get done if we just have fire and heat in our relationship all of the time.
“But there are times where I need to have that serious conversation. I need to remind them that it’s not personal, but we need to talk about that. I don’t personally believe that negates being hospitable and making sure that they’re comfortable in my home, and that they respect the fact that this is my home. This is not an office space. This is my young person’s home. This is their safe space and I need them to treat it thusly.”
1. Prioritise times that are best for your young person
“I want my professional network to engage with me in the time best for my young person,” Sandjea said. “If that young person needs to be part of that meeting, then you need to do that, not in school hours. If it’s in school hours or college hours, then we need to meet on-site.
“I need to get the relationship to a point where there’s not going to be resistance to that, and that I can make that as easy as possible. It should not be about me always going to your office, taking my young person out of school to go to your office, because that is only going to make her feel more different.”
2. Share perspectives, listen and negotiate
When it comes to arranging times for meetings and conversations, Sandjea recommends sharing enough information so that the professional understands the impact of their requests or expectations on you as the foster carer.
“For example, I can appreciate as a social worker that you don’t want to be in my house at 6 pm and that would take away from your family time,” Sandjea said. “But I need you to know that I left work early to be here for this meeting, so when you were late today, there’s an impact on me from that. And I still need to cook dinner for my child and my foster child needs to be in bed a certain time, in order for them to be regulated. There’s a two-way impact going on here.”
“I think the first thing is that foster carers need to be informed,” Sandjea said. “Read the relevant policies, keep updated on the changes to policies or legislation.”
At an independent foster care agency like Lika, those policies, regulations and other information are all kept centrally in an online folder, and updated regularly, so foster carers can access the information whenever they need it.
“As a foster carer, you need to make sure that your child is getting what they need to get,” Sandjea said. “There’s a Pupil Premium for looking after children that often does not go where it’s supposed to go. Ask how your child’s Pupil Premium is being spent.
“Sometimes it’s better not to waste time having a conversation. Just put it in an email. A one-liner. ‘Please can you give me a categorised list of how my young person’s Pupil Premium is being spent?’
“Have really clear boundaries. Teachers are busy. They spend most of their time, we know, either in class teaching pupils, before and throughout the day and at the end of day, dealing with safeguarding at the school issues, but they have to communicate with you.
“Contact them mostly by email, so you’ve got a paper trail that shows the date that you requested information and that you’ve reasonably waited seven days or whatever it is that their policy says, before requesting a progress update. Then the second email is going to be, ‘I haven’t had progress on this’. And the third is ‘I’m escalating this to this next person’. That could all be done in a month.”
Sandjea also recommended having regular (six monthly) meetings with educators.
“Be prepared for that meeting,” she said. “Your best preparation for that meeting is knowing your young person, knowing what they’re happy with, what they’re not happy with at school, what their friends are like at school.
“If you have got a younger child, you’re going to have like a dinner card, so you’re going to be able to find out what your child is buying for dinner. Are they eating dinner? Does it look like they’re just buying sweets? You should know the punctuality of your child. You should know the attendance record of your child. If it’s possible to get your child additional support. If they’re receiving tutoring in school, or therapy in school, whatever in school, how is that going from your child’s perspective?
“When a teacher sees that you are serious and on top of your child or young person’s education and educational experience, they will welcome that and want to engage with you.
“Take advantage of parents’ evenings and go to them. That way you get the opportunity to interact with every teacher that sees your child.
“Lastly, if school isn’t working, you have a board of trustees and a government system there for a reason, so escalate the situation and hold them to account.”
If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.