In Systemic Fostering

Tony Charles is a Family and Systemic Psychotherapist. He has over 28 years experience in working with looked after children and children leaving care. He has also worked as part of children’s services in youth offending, child protection and children in need.

He is a very innovative and creative professional balancing therapeutic interventions with risk assessment and interventions.

Tony is currently sitting as an independent Panel member for Lika Family Fostering and working nationally supporting local authorities to embed the use of systemic practice into social work, and spending half his week in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). (Busy man!)

May we ask you introduce yourself Mr Charles, maybe tell us something you are passionate about?

My name is Tony Charles. Part of who I am is a Family & Systemic Psychotherapist. I use the word part, as I believe that we are made of different parts, experiences that make us who we are.

In my younger years, growing up partly on a West Indian Island, within a community, offered me lived experiences, giving meaning to an African Proverb ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’.

For many reasons, at times within today’s society, the village, community feeling, social structures, seems to have taken a detour, lost its way. However, as humans, I have a belief that we a very resourceful, hence creating our versions of the village. Now, within these villages, we have families, communities, and also the support services (health, education, emergency agencies, police, and social care), which have evolved over time. As foster carers, I placed you within the village. Under which cohort, I’ll let you decide.

Part of what enables a village to thrive, are the relationships, how we relate to others, how we make sense of others and ourselves, communication. I am always drawn towards systemic (therapeutic) ideas, as I’ve found them to be a great tool,enabling us to look at the different meanings. These ideas present opportunities to relate to others (children, family members, professionals) in ways that will promote change and positive outcomes.

How can these therapeutic ideas benefit foster families, and the children placed with them?

Using these ideas can allow you to see behaviour as communication. Lika Social Workers can work with you through the meanings we create, flowing out of our words and actions, blended with our beliefs, values, and experiences, creating acontext through which we make sense of things. Using these ideas with your social worker can give you space to use difficult situations as learning points, giving you more resilience and creating more stability.

Imagine a child, who swears and shouts at meal times, not wanting to sit at the table. These are some of thequestions that would facilitate reflection.

  • How would you describe this child?
  • What stories would you tell about this child?
  • Would those stories change if I said that this child lived within a foster placement?
  • How do our held beliefs have an impact on what we see, hear, and understand?
  • Have you got a view, opinion, regarding mealtimes, and if so how does that hinder or promote thinking about, making sense of this child’s behaviour?
  • What would be the risk in giving up, holding lightly, some of our held beliefs (which may have been held within our family for generations)?

We can begin to understand; the multi-layered influences on our thoughts about this child at the table, (which have an impact on how we make sense of, engage, respond to this child). Take a breath for a brief moment, and wonder (from the above example) what we might be responding to. What are you responding to? The child, the swearing, held beliefs on mealtimes, anything else?

How would you advise interested foster families take their next steps in this approach?

Now this is just a snapshot, a dipping of the toes in the ‘making meaning’ pool. If I may, I would like to invite you to gaze through thesystemic thinking lens, and explore the ideas of problems not residing in the individual, but between us, in communication, hence individuals are freed from being pathologised.

Thinking about you as a foster carer, the children placed in your care; one can begin to see the benefits of having systemic minded support, ensuring we create an environment in which best outcomes are achieved, children feel listened to, understood, carers feeling equipped to support and be supported.

Hence, we have a bespoke village, in which foster carers play an important role. Within their role are offerings of systemic thinking, promoting reflective practice. How can we not offer such support, in the service of the child…….

Tony Charles is a critical friend of Lika Family Fostering, sitting on their independent Panel and offering feedback on the quality of assessments and Panel process.

Tony Charles works as an independent therapist, offering sessions, consultations for organisations, families, couples and individuals. You can find out more at

Lika are now recruiting. If you know someone who you think would be an outstanding foster carer, get them to visit the Lika website.

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