Why your foster care assessor wants to look at your family tree
Your foster care journey will probably start in a place you don’t expect ¬– with a bit of a climb through your family tree.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Your family are the people who made you who you are. Their habits, patterns, ideas, biases, likes, loves, values, beliefs and behaviours will have influenced your habits, patterns, ideas, biases, likes, loves, values, beliefs and behaviours – one way or another!
Now, as you prepare to welcome a young person into your life, all those things about you will become an influence in their lives, too.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a test! It’s not a “pass or fail” based on your background. It’s a much more thoughtful process than that.
Here’s why a social worker or foster care assessor will want to discuss your family tree with you (and why it’s a good thing for you and your foster child).
GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.
Your family tree – the role of the genogram in foster care
Social workers and psychologists use a special type of family tree, called a genogram, to help paint a picture of a person and the influences and support they have in their lives.
It’s literally a diagram, showing all your relationships, but it’s also a map of a particular moment in time. It shows a family, of at least three generations, and notes the different types of relationships, cultural ideas, beliefs and values that exist. It also notes information around lots of other factors (like health, for example).
At this point you might be thinking “why do they need to know all this, I just want to foster children who need care?” This could particularly be the case if you’ve got a complicated family story and don’t feel comfortable sharing it. That’s understandable, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. But first, let’s think about the young person for a moment.
When you’re choosing a foster child, you get a lot of information about them. It’s all written down. You get to read it. You know their history, their foibles, errors, and mistakes, and some of the trauma they have experienced that has lead to them needing a foster placement. Some of that information might or might not be accurate, but the child’s story is at least clear.
In order to ensure a foster child is a good match for you, we need to be aware of your story, too. What’s more, so do you! You need to learn about the unconscious biases you might have, for example, because you’re the intervention for a young person in need.
Unless you have a grasp on why you do things the way you do, how can we help you be the best carer you can possibly be? You need to be conscious of your own story.
As mentioned above, this idea can cause some people to worry. But don’t be scared of thinking about your family, or patterns of behaviour, or what you’ve experienced in the past; we will help you through that process.
This is the start of all the learning you will do throughout your fostering journey – all your training will be linked to it, and all your supervisions will come back to it.
Family trees – a little more about genograms and patterns
When you first start your assessment process (before you’re approved to become a foster carer) you will have six to eight home visits from an assessor. During the first two or three of those visits the assessor will develop your genogram.
So, what is the assessor looking for in your family tree?
They’ll be looking for patterns that repeat over time, and big moments of change.
Let me explain by way of example.
Recently I was talking to a woman who was one of three children being raised by a single mother. The mum instilled an excellent work ethic in them all, but she couldn’t afford to give them the education she would have preferred. So the woman, now a single mother herself, is passionate about giving her children the best education possible. She works incredibly hard so she can afford to send her kids to good schools, and insists her kids work hard at their studies.
The repeating pattern in this example is the work ethic that is being handed down from generation to generation. The big moment of change is the woman prioritising her kids’ education, so they can have opportunities she did not.
You can see, from that example, how our own histories shape us. It’s easy to see how things like values and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation. That’s the part we are really interested in! Why we have some priorities over others? These different priorities then might influence how someone fosters and the experience the young person in their care receives.
How your genogram influences your foster placement
We think of your genogram as part of the therapeutic process. It’s not just a “get to know you” exercise, it’s something that really informs your foster care journey; it is used to help the assessor through the fostering assessment and the entire Lika team through the placement processes.
Here’s a practical example of why this might matter.
A 16-year-old girl from Ilford, east London, needs a foster placement. Her profile tells us she is at risk of sexual exploitation. We have a carer waiting for a placement who, according to the family history in her genogram was parented by over-bearing men.
How would the carer react if the child started staying out late? Could she be over-protective? What if the child’s behaviour starts to bring out other emotions in the carer we hadn’t anticipated?
It’s about being aware of the ways the carer’s own history might show itself in a fostering situation. That’s not to say she’s not the right placement for this child, but knowing her history helps us think about what training she might need to have, so she can handle a situation like that when it arises.
Genograms help you become the best carer possible
When someone starts poking around in your family tree, asking about all your personal relationships, it can often feel a little intrusive. That’s perfectly understandable.
It’s important to remember that the questions are being asked for the right reasons.
For us to be able to match you to the right foster child, we need to understand where you come from, your ideas about the world, how you make sense of things.
It’s all about helping you become the best carer possible.
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, Ilford, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.