What kind of support does a foster carer get?
What kind of support does a foster carer get?
The first thing you need to know about becoming a foster carer is you’re not alone. There’s a wealth of foster carer support available.
Even if you are a single carer there is a big professional team behind you all the way.
Only in fostering does this happen. This isn’t available in adoptions or in families not involved with social care services. Our foster carer support network is a great lifeline to have in times of triumph and tribulation.
If you choose to become a foster carer, this team will become like a family to you. They will be available to you all times of the day, every day of the year – just like a supportive family should be.
So, when you’re raising a fostered child, it’s within a foster family, not just within the four walls of your home.
Meet your supervising social worker
Your main foster carer support will be your supervising social worker (SSW). We’ll get into detail about what your SSW does a bit later but, in short, they look after the following:
- They act as a go-between for the foster carer and the fostering service (or the local authority)
- They advocate for you to the other professionals. They can check stuff out with the local authority or be with you at meetings so that afterwards you can unpick what was said
- They can arrange respite, if you need it, outside of your nominated support network
- They can take your foster children out for respite days
- They support everyone in your fostering network, including your own children
- They offer weekly to six-weekly supervisions, where they check up on any placement issues and give you time to reflect on how it’s affecting you emotionally
- They deliver training. They also follow up with you at home to see how you are using the training and to provide guidance
- They can do direct work with the child you are looking after, to show you how to respond using therapeutic parenting approaches
- They take the time to ensure that the relationship between you and the young person is the most valuable it can be. They focus on the importance of the transactions in your relationship and the interaction between themselves and your whole family. They do this so that they can model it for you, so you can be as sensitive to the developing relationship with the fostered child and the foster child’s birth family as possible — as we believe it’s between and inside these close relationships that change can occur and people can start to try out different ways of thinking and behaving.
So that’s the short version of what your main foster carer support will look like. Here’s a more detailed explanation of what your entire support system will look like if you become a foster carer.
Who are the people in your foster carer support network?
There are two elements to your foster carer support – the professional group and the familial group. Both are essential and offer different but equally important support to you and your foster child.
Here’s whom you have in your professional group:
- Assessing social worker: This is a therapeutically trained social worker who, with great care and appreciation, assesses your suitability to become a foster carer. They are with you from the time you make an application but then they hand you over to your supervising social worker after you have been approved
- Founding foster carers: This is a group of experienced foster carers (they’ve been with us since we started, so they are a knowledgeable group!) Sometimes it’s really helpful to be able to ask someone things like “when this happened to you, what did you do? How did you feel?” and hear it from someone doing the same job as you. These guys are very supportive; they’ve been where you have been and they want everyone to do well and succeed. You can be ‘buddied’ up to someone, but you can also just put a call out on our WhatsApp group and watch the replies come flooding in from our superb bunch of helpful carers!
- Registered manager:This is a manager who has oversight of all applicant foster carers. They are usually the person who also takes care of the daily functioning of the agency and the safeguarding issues. (Our registered manager is me. Hi! As your registered manager I’m there for you after your approval of the allocation of your SSW.)
- Clinician/systemic practitioner:This is the term used to describe someone who is basically half a therapist; they’ve done half the course, can use the concepts and can show you how to use them, too. Your SSW will be a dual-qualified systemic practitioner, so whenever you need some therapeutic ideas or some reflective discussions, your SSW can switch up and do that then and there – so there’s no need to wait for the psychotherapist to get back to the office.
- Systemic psychotherapist:Not all foster care agencies have one of these but as a therapeutic agency, obviously we do. The psychotherapist is available to you for reflective family supervision, where problems are unpicked and specialist advice is given to you. They can also do one-on-one sessions with you or the young person, and they often run training, too.
READ MORE: What is a systemic approach to foster care?
- Training officer: Your foster care agency will provide training and training support. Your trainers may also be SSWs so they can go over the concepts you just learnt in training in your home, with the child. Or, if the training was delivered by one of our expert trainers, your training officer can help you try out in real life the theories you just learnt.
- Out of hourssupervising social worker: Sometimes you will need support outside of office hours! We get it. Out of hours SSWs are the same SSWs you’ll be used to but they are available after hours, on a rota system. So one week maybe you’ll get your own SSW, but then a different week it’ll be someone else. What is important is they all work together so they know both the child’s and your story well. That means you don’t need to take time to explain the background; you can just cut to the juicy stuff — the stuff you need help with.
- Supervising Social Worker(SSW):We talked about these guys above, but just hold on a little bit longer – we are going to look at this person in a lot of depth in a minute.
This network of professionals should help you to feel super supported in your fostering household. But if you can’t imagine what all this support looks like, it looks kinda like this:
This foster carer support network of professionals should help you to feel super supported in your fostering household.[/caption]
Other professionals here to support your foster family
The above is just your professional support from your foster care agency. There are a ton of professionals linked to every foster child and they will all be offering you ideas to help manage your foster placement.
Here’s a brief overview of this second group of professionals who are available to help:
- Looked after child’s social worker (LAC SW):This is the kingpin of the professional support for your child. They’re the person in your local authority who shares parental responsibility with the parents. They are in charge of the child’s care plan, make decisions for the child with the birth parents, and give you direction and advice on the way they wish the child to be cared for
- Manager: The LAC SW has a manager. This person can also offer direction and advice if the LAC SW is not present
- Independent reviewing officer (IRO): This is a senior social worker in the local authority. They come to reviews for the foster child and check the progress of the child’s care plan. They are not ‘managers’ but they hold everyone to account in the professional network
- Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services (CAMHS): Not all children will have a CAMHS worker or service. This is for children who have a high level of emotional need that requires specialist intervention. However, if you become a foster carer no doubt you will be invited to CAMHS sessions too, so you can learn how best to help little ones through any trauma. Most of our psychotherapists either also work in CAMHS or used to – so don’t worry; we can help you through the process
- Children’s guardian:Usually guardians are allocated through the Courts, when a child’s care order is not yet finalised, so you may or may not meet them. But guardians are there to ensure that the child’s wishes are taken seriously and the child lives where they are safe and can best develop. If there is a guardian allocated, no doubt they will also talk to you
- Independent visitor:Hopefully all children in care will have an independent visitor. These are allocated by the local authority that placed the child with you, but they are independent (they do not work within the same team as the local authority). Visitors communicate with the child on their own and make sure that the child has the best standard of care and support from all those around them.
READ MORE: Are foster care assessments intrusive?
Foster parents also need a personal support network
As part of your assessment to become a foster carer you will have to name a ‘support network’.
These are your self-nominated friends and family who can help you with overnight respite, pick ups and drop offs, taking the child out for trips and activities and so on. But they are also your emotional council outside of your agency. Usually they are two key people, but you can have more.
Your foster carer support network is adults nominated by you because you know they will be helpful. These people can also go to training and supervision sessions, so they can provide care in the same way you have learnt to.
What does that look like in practice?
Here’s a real-life example for you.
One of our foster carers in South London was taught to use a specific therapeutic approach with her sibling foster children. The approach has been very successful and really helps to manage the children’s behaviour. Because of this, it makes sense for the carer’s support network (in this case, her niece and her husband) to use the same therapeutic approach.
To ensure our foster carer’s network understood what to do and were able to use the right language and activities with the boys, I ran a training day in the foster carer’s home, with the support network.
During the training, I explained to them what the therapeutic model was, and I showed them how to use craft materials, metaphors, stories and other techniques with the siblings, to help them in times of difficulty.
Afterwards the support network were confident to use these new skills and tools on their own, meaning the management of the children felt easier for them. That meant the carers could relax more whilst away on holiday, knowing that the children were being looked after in the same way they would look after them. It was a win-win.
So, overall, carers really experience a “wraparound” type of support. If you can’t imagine how that might look, here’s the entire network:
That’s a lot of foster carer support!
So, what does a supervising social worker do?
I promised we’d get there – and here we are.
In your fostering world, your supervising social worker is the go-to person for everything you need to know, check, or get help with. Although an SSW can’t make decisions about the child’s care plan (because that is the LAC social worker’s domain) they can represent their views to the LAC SW and advocate on your behalf with suggestions.
I’m an SSW myself, so I can tell you firsthand exactly what we do. Here’s a rundown:
- We carry out thoughtful matching of your family to a foster child. This is a process we always involve you and your children or household members in
- We supervise and appraise you every year and write reports on how you are doing and where you could improve
- We work with you and your family to make sure that you understand the National Minimum Standardsand assess whether they are being met
- We ensure that the foster home is compliant with health and safety regulations and make a formal assessment
- We create and maintain your professional development plan, which also includes training for your birth children and support network
- We deliver coaching and skills sessions in supervision, so it becomes a place for you to learn new ways of managing behaviour
- We spend time with the foster child to check on their progress and make suggestions about how best to support further development
- We do direct work with the foster child and your birth children. If any issues arise we are available to offer this thoughtful time to the family
- We provide out-of-hours support with the same approaches and same therapeutic theory as you’d receive during office hours — so no matter what time of day you need it, you will always get the best advice.
What is ‘supervision’ in foster care?
This is where the magic happens.
Your SSW leads your supervision but they will make an agenda in consultation with you, so all the issues you feel need to be discussed can be covered.
For example, an agenda I’ve co-created with the foster carers I supervise might look like this:
- Review of agreed tasks:Look at any actions that have come up from the last supervision to make sure we are all on track, recording outcomes, and making progress
- Family update: I ask if there are any additional pressures outside of the placement — like a death in the family, any differences in your support network, or any other pressures — which may impact your emotional resilience to look after a child
- Placements: We discuss any issues about the children in placement, including behavioural difficulties, and discuss any suggestions or ideas from last session that we want to review (if it’s working or not working as hoped, and any new ideas or ways to manage presenting problems). Any successes are something we want to celebrate with you and the foster child. The foster children can be part of some or all of your supervisions – depending on their age, understanding, and the appropriateness of the discussions. For example, if we are talking about a prison sentence for one of their parents, which they may not have been told about yet, it would be more beneficial for them not to be there. But if part of your supervision is to address a behavioural difficulty, and your SSW was going to help you manage this, it may be great for the young person to be there to hear what we all think about the problem and join us in planning to overcome it
- Support plan: This is the holistic support plan that is offered you and the foster child. It ensures everyone (you, your SSW, CAMHS, and so on) is singing from the same hymn sheet.
- Support network: We discuss this to ensure you have respite from your network and, if not, we can talk about how to arrange some. Your support network can also come to supervision, as can your birth children (even if they are young and not your backup carers, their input can be very useful)
- LAC review: We may review any actions or pointers that the child’s social work team raised in the foster child’s review, just to make sure we are on track with the plan and to create some feedback for the next review.
What does foster care supervision look like in reality?
Supervision happens anywhere between once a week and once every six weeks, depending on the level of complexity in the placement. If you feel you need more, our social workers are available to do this.
Supervision sessions are a time for reflecting on the patterns of behaviour and relationships in the home and the presenting ‘dilemmas’ with the foster child.
After this reflection, we can come up with ideas about what is possibly going on for the young person and the foster carer and offer advice around managing these dilemmas.
It’s probably easier if I give you an example.
Recently I was in a supervision session with a foster carer in South London whose dilemma was that the foster child would ‘act up’ whenever the carer’s grandchildren came to visit.
The child (six years old) would throw his toys around, push the grandchildren and swear at them. This was a big difficulty because the carer wanted to see her grandchildren but it was becoming more unpleasant for them to visit. An intervention into the pattern of behaviour and into the relationships being built was needed.
So, we created some ideas around what was going on for the foster child at the time of the visits. Here’s what we came up with:
- The child may not feel confident enough to share the carer’s attention, because he is so new to the house. As a result, he ‘acts up’ to get the carer’s full attention (because having her validation is the only time he feels secure in the house)
- Perhaps the carer feels she needs to reassure her grandchildren that she is still there for them, as well as carer for the foster child, and this has made the foster child feel the carer ‘prefers’ her grandchildren. As the carer is so overly affectionate to her grandchildren the foster child does the only thing he knows how to do and ‘acts up’ to get her attention.
These two very different ideas don’t blame anyone for the dilemma but they give us a good framework to start to think about what the carer can now do differently to try to break the pattern of behaviour.
We created an ‘intervention’ for the carer to try in the house at the time the grandchildren were there, before the foster child had a chance to act up:
- The carer and the wider family were to use positive reinforcing and ‘catch’ the foster child being good. So, when the grandchildren are visiting, if the foster child plays calmly, shares, is gentle, eats properly or displays any other good behaviour, whomever sees it will say “well done! I see you are doing [insert good behaviour] and you’re such a good boy!” so he gets positive attention without needing to act up. If more people than just the carer do this, the child will also feel more secure with the other people, with whom he doesn’t have as strong a relationship.
The carer and her own adult children tried this, and slowly — it wasn’t straightaway — the acting up stopped. The foster child is now great buddies with the carer’s grandchildren and their visits are like a family get-together now.
How will my social worker help me with a challenging young person?
We will teach you a different way of parenting and support the embedding of these ideas by showingyou how to use them in your home, with your foster child sat in front of you.
Afterwards, we will go over why we did what we did and how it worked, and maybe – if you’re brave – we’ll role-play it with you, so you can learn how to do it for next time.
As social workers, we are your trainers in difficult times. We have been taught therapeutic approaches and other theories we find help ‘re-parent’ children who have been abused or traumatized.
What does help with a challenging foster child look like in practice?
Here’s an example to help me explain this better.
I work with a fostering couple who have a sibling placement. The children are seven and 11 years of age and the same gender. Again, the family lives in South London.
These children have experienced high-level trauma and abuse, so when they came to my carers, they were disturbed — they didn’t sleep well and used to have horrific night terrors, where they would scream and shout in their sleep and felt constantly under threat. The carers had to gently help the children realise they were not going to be hurt now.
But the night terrors, as you can imagine, were starting to exhaust the carers. They were having little sleep, so they were feeling burnt out. They asked for some help, especially with the younger one, as he could be physical and sometimes sleepwalk into the carers’ room and pull the female carer’s hair and hit her in her sleep.
After a telephone conversation with the female carer, I remembered a concept we’d just taught the carers called “externalising”. (Don’t worry about the term, it’s just the name of how to talk about a problem with a child, which allows them to see it as separate from themselves but to still take responsibility for their actions when the ‘problem’ arises.)
When I visited the carers’ house the seven-year-old was not in the home, so the carers and I got chatting about the approach and I explained why it works. The gist is that children don’t feel they are inherently bad — that badness or problems run through their core — if they feel they have control and influence over the problem. When they have that control and influence, they are more likely to engage in trying to shift it or get rid of it.
It was unplanned that the young person came home while I was in the middle of explaining what to do, so I thought I may as well just show the carers what to do.
Here’s what the conversation looked like:
Me: What is it called, that thing that happens in the night?
7yo: The thing that comes to me? It’s a dark spooky thing. It’s a scary thing that comes every night to get me and hurt me.
Me: When you see ‘dark spooky’, what does it look like?
7yo: It’s like a lady. It’s got a long arm and it tries to get me by putting out its long arm. It’s trying to hurt me and get me in the night because I’m asleep.
Me: When dark spooky is there, does it make a sound?
7yo: It says my name. It tells me that it’s going to get me and hurt me. It says that it wants to kill me.
Me: Does it bring a feeling out in you when it comes?
7yo: It makes me scared and angry. I hate it
Me: How do you see dark spooky affects your behaviour?
(There is a pause here and the seven-year-old looks at the female carer. You could have an idea that he is aware that he hurts her, or that there is an impact on her. Or there could be an idea here that he is worried about telling us both about what it makes him do. All good ideas to keep in the brain box; they will help us have more questions later with the boy.)
7yo: Sometimes it makes me hit things.
Me: How do you see dark spooky affects the others in the house?
7yo: Sometimes it hurts Aunty (this is the child’s name for the female carer).Because I get so angry at that lady, I sometimes think it’s Aunty. It’s not her, but it feels like it’s someone like her. It’s just it makes me really angry and scared. I want to fight it away. It keeps coming back all the time.
Me: Are you happy to see that dark spooky does this?
7yo: No, I hate dark spooky.
Me: Has there been a time when dark spooky has not come into your bedroom?
(There is another pause, which may mean these times are far apart, but I’m looking for the times that the child has managed to get through the difficulty using his inner resources, so I can build on them.)
7yo: Yes, not as many as when she has come.
Me: What do you notice helps you overcome dark spooky?
(There is another pause. These questions are hard. They are making the child look for the fewer times — and they are making him think about cause and effect, when there are protective factors or things that manage or reduce difficulties.)
7yo: Times when Aunty and I read together just before bed, and she tells me that nothing will hurt me. She puts a protective spell on me, so dark spooky can’t get through it.
Me: Do you think you and Aunty can do this every night, to keep dark spooky at bay? And you can really listen to that order Aunty gives dark spooky, that it can’t hurt you?
(The child is smiling and clapping at the female carer, who is also smiling at the child)7yo: YES! Aunty, isn’t it you can tell dark spooky not to hurt me?
Female carer: Yes, I’ll tell her every night — and you have to believe me that I can keep you safe here. Nothing bad happens here.
I’m not a miracle worker. I just asked some skillful questions to get the child and the carer to reflect on what they already do that works and tell them to do more of it!
But it’s the way in which we use language, body language, playfulness and creativity which allows a child to really engage. The child in this example didn’t have half as many dark spookies after that and now (one year later) doesn’t have any problems at night at all.
So your social worker is a very competent professional who will be able to sit with you and show you the way to respond differently to a child, ensuring they can change and behave in a healthier way.
What happens if I have an emergency or a difficulty out of hours?
As a key part of our foster carer support provision, you’ll find us there for you, at the end of the phone.
As mentioned above, our SSWs are on a rota, with one of us on call each week. We have one duty number that you can call when you have a challenge. Call us and we can talk you through it, give you advice and guidance, and check in later to ensure that things have settled down. Like I said before, it’s like a family – families don’t turn off at 5pm!
I’ll give you an example of this after-hours support in action.
One of our foster carers had an emergency placement — a 12-year-old girl who had mental-health issues.
At 8 p.m. the young person started to say that she wanted to hurt herself and was running around the house trying to find something hazardous to drink. The carer put her husband into action. He locked all the kitchen knives away and moved all the glass ornaments and drinking glasses, so there were no hazards for the young person to get to.
The family was unable to reduce the young person’s anxiety and she was crying and screaming and threatening to jump out of the window, so the carer called me for advice.
The carer and I went back and forth on the phone that evening. I gave her some advice to follow initially, then called back 30 minutes later to see if it had been helpful. I suggested something different and then called back to check in again.
After about three rounds of this, I suggested that the male carer make some warm milk in a beaker and advised the female carer hug the girl, guide her to the sofa and sit together while hugging her. The plan was to help her drink the hot milk, rub her back and repeat that she was safe and everything would be OK.
This is something you would do for a much younger child – a baby – but my idea was because she had missed out on this nurturing as a baby, it may be something she responds to well. That is, she may be stuck emotionally at a much younger age than she is.
It worked, and the girl fell asleep on the sofa and then went to bed.
So like I said at the start, you are never alone. No matter what the time or the day, you’ll find us available to help and full of different ideas.
Will my birth children be supported too?
This is a really common question from people wanting to become foster carers and the answer is definitely — 100 per cent! We train them and include them in supervision.
As an SSW, I have carried out many therapeutic sessions with birth children before. It’s an opportunity to explore their feelings about the foster children in placement and give them space and time to understand what’s going on for that child, and make sense of their own place in the home.
To give you an example of how well that works, here is what one of the birth children of one of our foster carers said about the process in the past:
“They were interested in what I thought. They took us [the birth children] out for a meal as part of my parents’ assessment and asked what age range we would be comfortable with and to tell them what worries we might have about fostering.”
Foster carers should always feel completely supported
It is important to us that as a foster carer you feel you are supported completely – that you have first class foster carer support. You also need to feel complete confidence in the support you’re receiving, so you’re able to embrace the challenges that parenting brings and still remain creative and playful with the children in your care.
I see carers as really skilled practitioners, creating change in their foster children’s behaviour and relationships. Those changes will echo throughout these children’s lives. And our supervising social workers are there for the whole journey, to support and celebrate with the carers at every turn.
If you feel that you want to be involved in an agency in South London that is dedicated to creating outstanding outcomes for both the carers and the children, join us now!
Call on 02086672111 or email email@example.com