Nearly 90% of foster carers say they experience difficulties when working with social workers, while almost two thirds of social workers say the same.
The findings, based on two snapshot polls by Community Care, highlight the complexities of managing professional relationships between social workers and foster carers.
While 71% of foster carers described the relationship with their supervising social worker as excellent or good, 88% cited problems when working with children’s social workers.
Foster carers’ most common complaints were that children’s social workers do not return their calls or emails, appear not to take their views into account and do not share vital information about the child or treat them as ‘part of the team’.
‘They don’t listen to us’
One foster carer wrote: “They don’t listen to us or answer calls or emails. We know the children best, but when we speak up for them we get knocked back. Thankfully this is only a few social workers, but it has pushed us to the point of almost giving up fostering.”
Another said: “Like most humans, social workers vary in experience and understanding. Some are just too young, with limited life experience, to be making major life changing decisions, and others are so worn down that they see things from a very negative perspective.”
Foster carers also said they want to be recognised as experts on the children they foster, with 88% saying they want more authority to make decisions.
One wrote: “You treat the child as part of your family, but then you have to ask if you can take them away for the weekend. This is the opposite of acting like a parent.”
Others also claimed that children can take advantage of their foster carers’ lack of authority.
Less of a priority
Two thirds of social workers surveyed said they strongly or slightly agree that foster children are seen as less of a priority by social workers because they are assumed to be in a safe, stable placement.
More than half (61%) of social workers also admitted they have, at some point, felt reluctant to place children in foster care because of concerns about the quality of foster carers. But, according to 91%, this happens only occasionally or very occasionally.
The two surveys – one completed by 100 registered foster carers, the other by 70 practising social workers – suggested difficulties arise mainly between foster carers and children’s social workers, rather than between carers and their own social workers.
Although 63% of social workers admitted to problems when working with foster carers, the vast majority (91%) described their relationship with foster carers as either excellent or good.
“In my experience, nearly all difficulties can be worked through,” wrote one social worker, “but social workers are not always given the time to do this.”
What foster carers say:
“I feel that a number of social workers still don’t treat foster carers as part of the team. They expect us to work as a professional but they don’t give us enough information or respect.”
“Some social workers are excellent, but some seem astonished that we should ask them to do things e.g. life story information, forms for school, hospital permission forms. One social worker accused us of making up things that we told her our foster child had said. We had to get the children’s rights officer to come and listen to the child before she would believe us.”
“Some social workers still have difficulties working with foster carers. They lack respect with experienced foster carers, instead of using this to their advantage they regard it as a negative.”
What social workers say:
“I feel that foster carers expect me to be their friend and to agree with a decision they have made about a child in placement. My primary concern is the interest of the child, yet they are still surprised (and put out) when I put the child first and refuse to agree with them.”
“As you develop a close working relationship with carers and support them in very sensitive issues, it can sometimes make it difficult if you need to challenge them on something. On the other hand, it can make it easier as foster carers respect your professional judgement.”
“[It is difficult to manage relationships] when foster carers disregard advice and divert from the care plan with no justification, just because they feel they know best.”
“I’ve had bad experiences where foster carers have neglected a child or, on one occasion, slapped a child, which led to a placement breakdown. It makes me feel anxious about placing children in foster care, although it has never actually stopped me from doing so.”
Social work guide to foster care placements