What is an interventive approach in foster care?
All adults intervene to help children in lots of different ways.
We do it by stopping a young child from running across the road, or by talking to a child’s teacher about a bully in class or by stopping a young person from accessing adult content online.
At Lika, we ask our foster carers to do the same thing. But that interventive approach goes a step further, and we encourage our carers to be therapeutically minded in their interventions with the young people in their care.
We’ll go into a bit more detail about what that means and what it looks like in a moment but, in short, the way a parent traditionally might intervene to help a child of their own generally isn’t enough to support a young person in care. That’s because that traditional parenting approach doesn’t usually need to be mindful of trauma and abusive life experiences.
Through our training at Lika, we prepare our foster carers to do a little extra thinking when it comes to interventions. This is central to how we support our foster carers and help the young people in our care.
A note on Lika’s approach to interventive foster care
Most young people in foster care have many professionals involved in their lives — teachers, various social workers, clinical practitioners, mentors, contact support staff, and so on.
For some, it can be overwhelming. So, as their foster care agency, we have to think about how and where we can reduce the number of those relationships. To do that, we’re always asking ourselves the question: “How does this professional add to the development and safety of the young person?”
Lika’s vision is to continue to create a fostering agency which trains and supports foster carers to become skilled professionals in their own right.
You don’t need any particular qualification to become a foster carer. We will provide you with the training you need to ensure you have the necessary skills to do good work for young people in care. Like all things, practice, patience and a willingness to learn are a successful foundation to grow from.
Being a Lika foster carer isn’t about providing a “bed and board” type living arrangement for a young person, no matter what their age is. It’s about playing an active role in that young person’s life. It’s about being interventive.
READ MORE: What is a systemic approach to foster care
We know that foster carers are most effective when they’re curious — when they ask questions, rather than make assumptions about what is going on when difficulties arise.
We also want our foster carers to be able to reflect on their own life experiences and critically understand how their journey influences their approach to looking after young people.
Lika believes positive life change can happen for young people, even in the most challenging cases. Foster carers, through their support and interventions, play a vital role in creating that change.
How we create change in a young person’s life
There are many ways we as adults can create meaningful change in a young person’s life. We can provide security of a home, food, clothes and consistency of care. We can support them in school, encourage them to succeed and help them set and achieve their goals.
To be able to create that change, a young person needs to trust the adult caring for them.
Trust in any relationship allows individuals to flourish, make mistakes, learn and be authentic. Without trust, a surface-level relationship might remain, as there may be a lack of safety between people.
To help build trust in a relationship between a foster carer and a young person, Lika subscribes to a model called P.A.C.E. It was created by clinical psychologist Dan Hughes and the model is designed to create safety for the young person in the relationship with their carer.
Once there is a level of emotional safety and trust in the relationship, there is then space for foster carers to be more therapeutically minded and brave in the ways they respond to the needs of their young person.
Let’s take a closer look at what P.A.C.E. means:
Playfulness – allows for an atmosphere which invites communication, fun, joy and storytelling.
Acceptance – is not about accepting behaviour that is not safe or is harmful, but rather being open to listening to a child’s thoughts, feelings, desires, and hopes. It’s about being unconditional when doing this, and not judging or placing expectations of right or wrong. Think of that person you had in your life growing up that may have offered this kind of acceptance. What was it like for you to have this?
Curiosity – is wanting to know about the many different dimensions to your young person and what influences their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. If you don’t have that curiosity, it can be difficult to move beyond what you’re seeing in front of you (“bad” behaviour, for example). It may also limit how your young person feels they can emotionally access you.
Empathy – is showing a young person that you’re on their journey alongside them, and that you’re there to hold them up during difficult moments. Ensuring a young person knows their foster carer wants the best for them and is open to hearing their distress, worries or loss is part of this. You may not understand what a child is going through because it feels so different from your own experiences growing up, but it’s about the adult being emotionally attuned to a young person in these moments of difficulty.
Knowing who is best placed to intervene
Sometimes we assess that a young person needs to connect to a specialist in order to create change, reduce risk or access therapeutic responses that need to come from outside the child-foster carer relationship. This often comes about in discussions between the young person, the local authority and Lika, and is about finding the way forward that will be most successful.
But often the best person to create the space for a more therapeutically minded response to a young person is their foster carer — the person they live with, who knows them well and understands them.
Where a foster carer doesn’t feel well-placed to intervene (perhaps they lack confidence in handling the situation or fear “getting it wrong”) we will ask the question: “what is it that someone else might do, that you’re not able to do, to create change you would like to see?”
This helps us work out who is best placed to intervene and undertake some of the therapeutic work needed.
But Lika foster carers are also supported to be more innovative and interventive in how they support a young person. We offer bespoke training (including in P.A.C.E.), reflective supervision and out-of-hours support. This empowers our foster carers, builds their confidence and helps them create change in the young person’s life.
What does therapeutically minded intervention look like in practice?
So, what does this all look like in reality? How does a therapeutically minded intervention play out in the real world, in a foster care placement?
Here’s an example of a conversation I had recently with one of our foster carers, Ngozi.
Ngozi called. She wanted to talk through the idea of being more creative in how she could talk to Lydia (her 14-year-old young person) about Lydia’s emotions.
Lydia would often shut down when asked how she was feeling, hide herself in her room when she was in a low mood, and regularly did not want to go to school.
Ngozi and I discussed some ideas about why Lydia may be reluctant to talk about her feelings.
- Perhaps talking about feelings was not valued in her birth family and doing so could lead to severe consequences from her mother
- Perhaps Lydia’s learnt strategy to protect herself is not talking, if talking puts her in harm’s way
- Perhaps Lydia may not want to talk to Ngozi about her feelings because it makes her vulnerable
- Perhaps she fears she could push her foster carer away if she speaks about her authentic feelings
- Perhaps, in Lydia’s eyes, avoiding deeper conversations with Ngozi is a way of keeping them together.
So, we had lots of ideas to work with. These ideas were neither true nor false. They were just ideas — something for us to create an intervention from.
Exploring the situation to find the right intervention
Ngozi and I thought about whether Lydia felt like a young person who was stuck with knowing how to move forward, as this would mean she might have to rely on her foster carer in a different way. This is scary stuff for a young person who has suffered trauma from adults they’ve had close relationships with.
We talked about the foster carer’s role being that of a coach, helping Lydia slowly develop skills in finding the language needed to name what was going on for her during her more difficult moments.
We talked about “stage of development, not age” — how some young people aren’t afforded experiences growing up where they’re taught about ways of expressing themselves with words. (This sometimes happens later on, like with Lydia, when they feel safe enough with a trusted adult.)
Identifying the right intervention solution
Through our discussions about possible interventive approaches, Ngozi was drawn to a technique called externalising.
Externalising is a way of helping a person to deal with a problem feeling or thought that is stopping them from being able to do something they’d actually like to do (like go to school, form relationships or travel on a bus independently).
The idea is to take the feeling — whether it’s sadness, fear, anxiety, a sense of worthlessness, etc. — and imagine it as something that isn’t a built-in part of them and who they are, that isn’t always present, and that isn’t going to forever feel all-encompassing and uncontrollable.
Externalising is about shifting the focus. As Michael White, one of the key people who came developed this technique, puts it: “the person is not the problem; the problem is the problem”.
Externalising shifts the focus away from the child and into thinking of “the problem” as something that is almost tangible and accessible, something with its own identity.
The classic example of externalising is to think of depression as a black dog. Another common example is describing anger as “a red mist”.
Supporting the foster carer to deliver the intervention
Here are the steps we went through in supporting Ngozi to use externalising as an intervention:
- Preparing Ngozi to start a conversation with Lydia about externalising and help Lydia identify a feeling that was most prominent for her (or most got in the way of being able to do the things she loved to do, or wanted to talk more openly about)
- Identifying ways she could talk with Lydia about what she was noticing: discussing questions and practicing them during our conversation
- Talking through with Ngozi the four or five steps in what an externalising conversation might look like (providing easy-to-reach slides, readings and step-by-step formulations of this process)
- Linking Lydia up with another, more experienced, foster carer who has used this technique before
- Practicing the technique with her social worker before Ngozi tried it out with her young person
- Following up on how it went. (Ngozi was asked to offer feedback on the use of the technique, how she felt about it, areas for improvement and next steps.)
- Ongoing coaching and supervision of Ngozi to embed this learning and new way of thinking about problems.
You can read more detail on the approaches and technique of externalising, here.
The results of Ngozi’s intervention
When Ngozi felt ready to try these ideas in a conversation with Lydia, she really went for it.
She used Lika’s training as a safe base to learn and develop from, and honed her skills as a thoughtful foster carer.
What Ngozi had learnt allowed her to feel confident enough to try a new way of having a conversation with her young person. By taking a risk and trying something new, Ngozi opened up new possibilities for intervening and talking with her young person.
Young people deserve committed foster carers
Interventions are about having conversations with our young people. But they’re conversations that are led by ideas that have a strong theoretical basis.
If you visit any professional — whether they’re a doctor, a dentist or a social worker — who works with people, you want them to have a level of expertise that means they can help and support you, not hinder you in getting whatever problem you have resolved.
It’s the same in foster care.
Our children and young people deserve committed foster carers who are skilled and knowledgeable individuals — people who are a safe pair of hands, able to help them through a chapter in their life.
At Lika we provide all the support and training needed to help our fosters carers provide exactly that kind of intervention.
Live in London and want to become a foster carer?
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.