BECOMING A CARER
The role of support workers in foster care
At a glance
- What are support workers in foster care?
- Who can be a support worker?
- What does a support worker typically do?
- The difference support workers can make in foster care
- How support workers form healthy bonds with young people
- How support workers approach their role
- Advice for foster carers from a support worker
For a foster carer to be able to do their job well they need a range of help available to them at any given time. At Lika, one of those key forms of assistance are support workers.
A support worker is a person who helps a foster carer carry out fostering tasks and responsibilities, usually by spending time with the looked-after young person.
They can help with duties like childminding, supervising contact, transporting children to school, attending meetings, and taking young people for days out and other activities, in order to free up some time in a carer’s day. A support worker may spend time with the young person on a regular or an occasional basis, but it’s usually always the same support worker, as these relationships are pivotal in a young person’s journey.
It’s important to understand, however, that the support worker isn’t a babysitter. Far from it. They’re an important figure in the life of a young person in foster care. They’re someone the young person can talk to independently, a responsible adult they can spend time with. They’re a role model and a mentor, and someone who can have a big impact in a young person’s life.
Support workers are people who are suitably qualified and approved to work with young people, including vulnerable young people. They’re usually people who have a lot of experience working with children and young people.
While they work alongside the professional team in foster care situations, and they may have qualifications in related or relevant fields (like childcare, youth work or education), their role is unique and they are not formally part of the young person’s professional team.
To find out what it’s like being a support worker in foster care, we asked one of our wonderful support workers, Peter.
Peter lives in London, he’s a father of two, and he’s been a youth worker for many years. He also runs a youth centre in London. So, he understands young people and is used to working with young people who have experienced trauma or are facing challenges. He’s currently a support worker for a pair of siblings in foster care, both of whom are pre-teens (or late primary-school aged).
“At the moment my role is really to integrate them into positive activities,” Peter said. “For example, I arranged for them to go ice skating a couple of months ago, and during half-term I encouraged them to attend our holiday programs, so they can integrate with other young people, do group activities, and engage with their peer group.”
It’s very easy to consider the benefits of having a support worker purely from the point of view of the foster carer. After all, the support worker is someone who can entertain your young person during school holidays, or take them to school, or arrange activities you might not otherwise be able to do.
While that’s all true, actually, it’s the difference the support worker can make to the young person where the benefits really show. Peter said when he takes his young people to his youth centre, he can see them forming healthy friendships and engaging positively with their peers.
“That also helps me to form a bond with them much more quickly,” he said.
“Sometimes, I think it’s all about finding that common ground and just trying to engage them with activities, and have conversations with them, at their own level,” Peter said.
“So, hypothetically, I might talk to them about sports. I like most sports, so if they’re into football, for example, then that’s common ground and you can try to tease out a conversation.
“It might be music or dance or anything, but you have to find that thing the young person is into because once you’re able to start that conversation with them, you gain their trust, and then you gain their interest.”
Peter said he gets to know the young people really well and the best part of his job is watching them change, evolve, grow and blossom. He said he enjoys having a positive impact on a young person’s life. One young person he’d supported many years ago even went on to study a degree in youth work!
While the work is rewarding, working with young people who have experienced trauma can also be demanding.
“Young people in foster care have their social workers, they’re being assessed 24/7, and that can be quite daunting and challenging for them,” Peter said. “So, my role is almost like a buffer, where they get to do fun activities, they get to hang out with their peers, and they get to be young people.”
Getting the chance to do “normal” things with other young people is really important and Peter said he reinforces that normality by encouraging his young people to refer to him as a “a family friend” in conversation with other young people.
“I do that because, rightly or wrongly, a lot of young people will start to judge young people for having a support worker. So, it levels the playing field. I say to them, ‘it’s not in your interest to tell them (other young people) that you have a support worker and, at the end of the day, they don’t need to know’.”
Peter has a lot of experience working with young people in foster care and others who have experienced trauma or come from challenging backgrounds. So, what advice does he have that foster carers might be able to apply to their fostering relationships?
“It’s important to set boundaries and be very consistent in your approach and in what you’re saying,” he said.
“I really just try to offer support and guidance. Sometimes, if a young person is in the wrong, just explain to them why they’re in the wrong rather than just give them the consequences. Give them a really firm explanation why, and why you’re taking the steps you’re taking, and just be really, really consistent in your conduct.”
Peter said working together with your support worker to ensure consistency and to reinforce messages was also really important.
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.