After chairing 80 reviews for looked-after children, I walked away
from all but a handful wondering if that was the best we could do
for them. If the bottom line is that the care we provide for a
child is only marginally better than that provided by their parents
then we have no business intervening in the first place. I am not
referring to the horrific cases of serious abuse or significant
harm being perpetrated upon children where the only option is
But why does the position of foster carer now only attract a
handful of applicants with each recruitment drive? Why are they
individuals who are largely not fit to do the job but who are taken
Apart from the few carers who are wonderful, committed,
compassionate givers, the rest seem to fall into several
categories. There are those who are in themselves disturbed and
work out their own neurotic relationship with society through
children in their care.
Then there are those who are seeking gratitude. They do not
understand the blank ungrateful materialism that kids who have
witnessed violence, chaos and worse, develop as substitute filler
for that inevitable hollowness. They want them to reject their
parents and love them instead. They cannot understand why they have
not won the child over with their tidiness, cleanliness, regular
meals and outings.
And there are the fair-weather carers. They want the job to be easy
money, which it isn’t in most cases. They will only have the child
very much under their terms, their house rules and their lifestyle.
They will not deal with parents, they will want the child out at
the first sign of trouble and if the child is excluded from school
they expect the placement to end that day. Time and again I have
asked myself what did they expect?
The government has to rethink the entire care system. It has to
take some responsibility for how we respond to failed parenting and
abuse victims. They are already failed for the most part, by the
legal system, and then again by their rescuers.
I know that there are a lot of decent, committed social workers out
there but they are becoming fewer. And when most of the teachers,
health visitors, therapists, housing officers and the rest have
“thrown the towel in” (and they can) the social worker is generally
the only one who is still there and who cannot walk away until,
like many, they walk away for good.
Gill Osborn is a former local authority children and
families team manager.