Foster carer: ‘When you’re suddenly classed as not mattering it’s devastating’

A foster carer and young person open up about their experiences of being denied contact after the placement broke down

Photo: WestEnd61/REX Shutterstock

Chrissy, now 17, was placed in foster care with Bev and Clive when she was 5 years old, but when she was 11 the placement broke down due to problems, such as throwing things and trashing the house, which had become unmanageable.

After the breakdown, Bev and Clive did say they would like to maintain contact if Chrissy wished and said that, after a short amount of time, they started to ask about how they could be supported to help her return to living with them.

“We were mum and dad, we were her family, she was known by our surname, and she just kept saying ‘I want to go home.’”

But it wasn’t until Chrissy was 16 that they started having regular contact again.

No reason

“Every single time I saw my social worker I would ask. Every single review I had I would ask. No-one ever gave me a reason other than we don’t think it’s appropriate,” Chrissy says about trying to see her foster parents after the placement broke down.

This past week the issue of facilitating contact between young people and their former foster carers has been raised by The Fostering Network report ‘Keep Connected’, which found carers and young people were being prevented from contact after the placement ended, something experienced by Bev, Clive and Chrissy.

‘She’s not settling’

“We naively expected to have contact with her, and initially we had contact, but when they moved her back they stopped all contact and said she needed to settle. ‘She’s not settling, she can’t have contact with you,’” Bev remembers. They went to court get contact, but later found that the order which they thought guaranteed them contact twice a year “wasn’t a valid order”.

Bev says that when they pushed for contact, they were met with a chorus of “it isn’t in the child’s best interests”, something Bev compares to a “get-out clause”.

Chrissy says social workers told her Bev and Clive didn’t want to see her. It was always the couple’s intention to retire after Chrissy left their care, and this information was relayed as a reason not to pursue contact a couple of months after the breakdown, and after the pair told their fostering agency they couldn’t take on any more children.

Bev says they sent letters to her that never arrived, and indirect contact was closely managed.

‘She never forgot our phone number’

“When she moved to a residential unit, every now and again our phone would ring – she never forgot our phone number – when she first moved before the social workers had managed to tell the workers we weren’t allowed any contact. [The workers] were concerned because she was crying for us so they said she could have a phone conversation,” Bev explains. “It was almost like she was policed all the time.”

Throughout this period, things got harder for Chrissy. Troubles with the police were punctuated with depression.

“I started getting really depressed and self-harming, because no-one was listening to me or letting me see my family.”

During her time in Bev and Clive’s home, they had moved outside of the local authority, and this became an issue when the placement broke down and Chrissy was moved back.

“Had she been local they wouldn’t have been able to stop her, she would have found her way to us,” Bev says.

The problem, as Bev sees it, was that “nobody ever really listened” to Chrissy when she was young.

“She says now how different she would have been had she not moved on. There’s a real sadness about that loss really, and I think the local authority just deny these children contact because they are [only] legally obliged to make sure they have contact with those with legal rights…We’re more her family – she doesn’t see anyone in her birth family now, and they just don’t get that. There needs to be some law that changes that and says they have to consider foster carers.”


It wasn’t until Chrissy approached 16, and a new social worker became involved, that progress was made.

“The social worker she had then saw [the case] and said ‘I’m not interested in anything that’s been said in the past but I know she wants to see you’ – and she’s started coming back.”

While Chrissy now enjoys weekends back with Bev and Clive every three to four weeks, it doesn’t get past an experience Bev calls “devastating”.

Chrissy says the experience, after having already lost her biological family, “was just like losing another one all over again”.

Bev says: “Most foster carers give their all. You know you’re not their birth parents but when they are with you, you do everything you can to make things good for them. So when you’re suddenly classed as not mattering it’s devastating.”

5 Responses to Foster carer: ‘When you’re suddenly classed as not mattering it’s devastating’

  1. Patricia gray February 12, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    We have been very lucky with all our long term foster kids, when they moved on we formed a good relationship with either the parent, foster parent or adoptive parent. . And have stayed in touch with most of our wee ones… its the hardest thing in the world to let a wee one leave after living as part of our family for months or years ! I feel its so important to maintain contact. .x

  2. Helen Majerski February 12, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    We have fostered 9 children and have experienced both positive and negative contact once a child moves on. The worst is knowing the child wants to see you but is being denied this as the service hide behind ‘it’s not in their best interests ‘. Yet we are the ones who live and breathe the children day on day out and usually have a pretty good handle on what’s best for them.

  3. Mandy Burke February 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    We have also been lucky in that many of our short term youngsters have chosen to keep in contact with us after moving back to their families or on to long term placements and this contact (in a couple of instances) was even endorsed by the children’s IROs, who viewed the contact as having a beneficial impact on the young persons lives. One youngster is still allowed to come and spend weekends with us, when we have no one else in placement, and she along with a former long term looked after youngster view themselves almost as sisters.

    In addition we have been able to help provide a bit of support for both the young people and their long term foster parents when things have got a bit difficult during the teenage years. I think social workers often forget that most families can have disagreements and children want to spend time with a family friend or relative whilst the dust settles. The problem is that when the young person is looked after social workers sometimes treat disagreements in long term placements as fully blown placement breakdowns and move a child on with little thought of working things through to support that placement. Former carers can have a big part to play in maintaining the long term placement in these situations as they often know the young people and their carers better than the young person’s (current) social worker and have already earnt the young person’s trust.
    Not all former foster children choose to keep in touch, and we respect them making that choice, however we have also in recent years experienced former foster children reaching 18 and contacting us as they have previously been prevented from getting in touch by social workers. Sadly some social workers forget former carers can provide a significant amount of historical memories for young people who have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives, especially when younger siblings have been adopted and they have not been allowed any contact.

    We hope that the government does sit up and take note of the positive benefits of enabling young people and former carers keeping in contact (where both parties are open to this) as I think former carers are a much forgotten resource, especially as regards helping support long term placements.

  4. Catherine mcintyre February 12, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    I had a boy with learning difficulties and autism as a permanent placement from the age of 9…..I also had and still have his little sister. Our life spiralled out of control at the beginning of the placement and took 2 years to settle him. We got there but it was a struggle even when I had serious ill health I never gave up on him. I had him 5 half yes until his behaviour seriously affected my grandson and social work were pushed into finding him somewhere else. I wanted to maintain contact as did he but social work said that they didn’t think at this point it was in his interest…….I kept pushing for this as there had been no proper ending and I didn’t want him thinking I no longer care. I continued to fight to see him went through seniors etc all to no avail. Social work eventually said that he wanted contact but then cancelled it again as they felt it would upset him. I get the odd phone call now and then but they have now stopped as his social worker doesn’t feel it’s appropriate. I felt so sad angry and lost I brought him up as my own we were his forever family but social work ended this…..I just hope he still believes I care so much for him.

  5. loiner February 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    this makes me laugh so much…………how do these professionals carer think the natural families feel, they are told as a family the same thing………sit up and take notice of the devastation caused to all the families including extended family, yet foster carer’s think they should have more rights