Cathy Glass is about to publish Hidden, her second book based on her experience of fostering troubled children. She tells Janet Snell how children’s services could be improved
What made you go into fostering?
I saw an advertisement in the local paper saying that foster families were desperately needed, and I wondered whether I had what it took. I went to an introductory evening and never looked back.
Have you ever regretted the decision?
No. Although I have doubted my skills as a foster carer and questioned whether I was getting it right.
When did you decide to write about your experience as a foster carer?
Six months after Jodie* had left me. She was the child whose story I recounted in Damaged, and she was the most disturbed and abused child I had ever looked after. Writing about her was cathartic.
Are you a critic or fan of social workers?
Neither and both. Like most foster carers, I have worked with excellent social workers who were so conscientious that they were regularly up until midnight catching up on report writing. I have also worked with social workers who didn’t even meet the basic statutory requirements regarding the children in their care.
Social workers feature in your next work, Hidden. Do they come out of it better or worse than in the last book?
Better. The social worker allocated to Tayo,* the boy in Hidden, was excellent, although the guardian ad litum left something to be desired!
If you were a director of children’s services what changes would you make to the system?
Oh dear! How long do I have? Bring all the case files together into one place five files in five different locations will not give an overall picture. And précis the files so the information is accessible – they should use a software system that reduces rather than increases work. And retain and increase admin staff to help with paperwork.
They ought to pressurise the powers-that-be for more funding. The Children Act 2004 cannot be fully implemented without it.
If concerns are raised about a child and the parents aren’t in when the social worker visits or the child isn’t there, make a return visit asap. And talk to the child alone. It’s obvious but it doesn’t always happen.
Ensure that all foster carers have access to e-mail at home and use it to update professionals on the child(ren) in their care.
Educate social workers (particularly men) on basic dress code. It is not OK to arrive at a meeting in washed-out jeans, open-toed sandals and a creased shirt, looking as though you’ve just fallen out of bed.
If you were a front-line social worker how would you challenge the system and make a difference?
Write a book, exposing the ridiculously heavy workload and lack of funding. It seems to me that most of the problems stem from too many cases and too little time.
What do you think of claims by John Hemming MP that adoption targets are turning staff into “babysnatchers”?
Rubbish, although the concept of having such targets has never sat happily with me. In response to a recent (inflammatory) Daily Mail article which supported John Hemming’s view I wrote: In over 20 years of fostering I have yet to meet a natural parent who didn’t feel that their children had been taken into care unjustly, and that they were in no way to blame. Even the most abused and neglected children – think of Jodie in Damaged – have “innocent” parents who are angry with the social worker and the system. Since Damaged I have received many letters and e-mails from adults who were abused as children and bitterly wished they had been removed from their parents sooner.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working with a child who was left too long in a highly abusive and dysfunctional family. I’m also working on another book which tells the story of a child I looked after when I first started fostering. It was before the Children Act, and I hope to show that, overall, the system has improved.
* Not their real names