For foster carers, the professional and personal are not mutually exclusive

All foster carers are professionals, and should be treated as such, argues The Fostering Network's Daniel Sinclair

adult and child
Photo: Konstantin Yuganov/Fotolia

by Daniel Sinclair

Words can imbue so much meaning, but are so often misinterpreted or misused – and can simply carry different meanings for different people.

In the fostering community, the word ‘professional’ is currently under the spotlight. Foster carers, fostering services, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), unions, and organisations such as Coram BAAF and The Fostering Network have all been using the word in the context of whether or not foster carers ought to be considered as such.

But at The Fostering Network, we’re concerned that ‘professional’ is being used to mean different things by different people – and that that confusion is in danger of creating more heat than light.

Coram BAAF’s Paul Adams began a recent article on Community Care by stating that the ADCS is “opposed to the professionalisation of foster carers, while The Fostering Network is said to be ‘in favour of moving towards a professional foster carer workforce.

“So what should we make of this apparent disagreement?” Adams asked.

A false dichotomy

While we agree with much of what Adams’ article says, we dispute the drawing of hard boundaries between ‘traditional’ and ‘professional’.

Adams writes that: “In contrast to the ‘professional’ foster carer there are also what is sometimes called ‘traditional’ foster carers; motivated not by a sense of career, but rather by the desire to offer children the opportunity to be full members of their family.”

The Fostering Network rejects this dichotomy. Being treated as a professional and having a desire to offer a child the opportunity to be a full member of your family are not mutually exclusive. Showing love and being a professional are not opposite ends of a spectrum.

Indeed, it could be argued that if you are going to be a foster carer for a young person until they are 21, it is absolutely essential you are seen as the key professional in the life of that young person. If not, your parenting decisions may be regularly undermined.

Professional not impersonal

The question shouldn’t be whether foster carers are professionals but, rather, ‘Why are foster carers often not treated as such by their co-professionals?’

Foster carers are professionals – whether they are long-term, short-term, emergency or respite carers – who bring the training, skills and experience that they have to the vitally important role of caring for children. Foster carers have to be able to provide these things to children who may well have experienced significant trauma and abuse, and they need to be able to relate to a wide range of other professionals.

I suspect there are few who would dispute the above observation of foster carers’ capabilities – so perhaps the confusion is caused by this word ‘professional’. By professional, The Fostering Network means that foster carers are supervised, trained, skilled and experienced – and ought to be well respected, sufficiently remunerated, offered ongoing training and properly supported.

Being professional, we would argue, does not preclude the place of love and parenting in the role of fostering.

Being a foster carer, even a foster carer who is looking after one child, or a sibling group, for many years, is not simply parenting or ‘parenting plus’. It’s never less than that, but it’s so much more.

The needs of most fostered children and the system within which foster carers work require them to be childcare experts at the heart of the team. Now, we need them to be consistently treated as such.

9 Responses to For foster carers, the professional and personal are not mutually exclusive

  1. Karen July 27, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

    I am a social work manager as well as a foster parent. I am always amazed that other professionals still fail to recognise the professionalism of foster parents. These days we are highly trained, often up to Masters level. The expectations placed upon foster parents is far greater than it was years ago, you have to provide evidence of outcomes and now more than ever foster parents are the people advocating on their young people’s behalf especially in regards to funding. The foster parent is sometimes the only constant in a young person’s life. They are tasked with building positive relationships with children who have struggled to attach to a care giver, they are the experts by experience and yet so often they are regarded as just ‘the carer’.

    • Deb Dawson August 3, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi Julie, I share your frustration with this. My qualifications of working with young people exceed those of most social workers, yet my role of a Fostercarer is often dictated by people who know a lot less than I do. An experienced Fostercarer who also has qualifications should be considered an expert in their field but this is often not the case. Something needs to dramatically change as the fostering needs of children of today are very complex compared to those who were in foster care 10 or more years ago. This attitude towards fostercarers is the one thing which makes me consider going back to my day job.

  2. Jane Steadman-Mallett July 27, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

    Saying long-term foster carers are not professionals, and the others are, is so demeaning.

    Many of the long-term carers are the ones that have invested (and continue to invest) the most time and effort with the children and are not willing to allow the children to move from home to home when difficulties present themselves. Permanency gives the children the best chances in life and the foster carers who offer it should be seen as at the top of the profession, given the best rewards, the most respect and the most autonomy.

    To undermine their professionalism is shocking.

    Foster children need therapeutic care from their carers (not traditional parenting) combined with ongoing teaching at home (above and beyond what they get at school), to increase their mental health, self-esteem and chances in life. This takes considerably more patience, attuned attention to the underlying issues and dedication. There should be clear incentives to increase the chance of good foster carers offering permanency – status, autonomy and better pay would help with that.

    Although short term placements may be a necessity at times, I would argue that long-term foster care is what should be most respected and revered, which in turn would encourage foster carers to aspire to it. Undermining the long-term carer by saying we are just regular parents would have the opposite effect – carers would feel under-valued and wonder why they should be putting in all the considerable time and effort for no recognition at all.

  3. Terry Unicorn July 28, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

    I’m fed up with being patronised by people who have a vested interest in keeping foster carers quiet, ill informed and most of all cheap.

  4. Onlyright August 22, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    To my mind the professional or not debate is taking the attention away from far more important issues. All workers, whether the label “professional” is attached to them or not, should be working with rights and protections. For far too long Foster Care Workers have been compelled to work without any.

    We should have all of the rights and protections other workers already enjoy, a right to fair pay, sick pay, holiday pay and a pension. In addition, we should have rights and protections that relate to our particular situation and vulnerabilities, a right to pay between placements, a right to due process when faced with an allegation and a right to pay during any allegations’ investigation.

    Call me what you will, it makes no difference to me as I know the value of my work, but cease denying me a status, “Worker” status, with legally enforceable rights and protections attaching to it.

  5. Amanda August 23, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    I think we should as foster carers be fighting for our rights as well as our status. We have fostered for over 25 years for our local authority. We take mainly long term placements and are now both in our fifties. Where is our local government pension?
    We can’t work for any other authority or agency concurrently, but wer’e ‘self employed’! No sick pay, or retention between placements, just expected to wait months with no income. We should all be fighting for fair rights and our status
    We look after valnerable, damaged children, their families, are expected to keep up with paperwork and are paid well under the minimum hour rate.
    We are qualified in childcare, why are we not treated as professional?
    What made this couple in Scotland so different to us?

  6. Tim Larner August 23, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    Let’s go back to definitions: Professional (adj) – relating to or belonging to a profession; engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur.

    Isn’t this the root of the problem? ‘Yes’, foster carers are increasingly professionalised in terms of the approach to their work, minimum standards, training requirements, oversight and supervision, but only ‘sometimes’ are carers (like me) doing it as ‘one’s main profession’. Many of us dip in and out of this second element of the definition. For my wife, she was very much a professional carer 15 years ago; now we are semi-retired and we pick and choose our placements, whilst we work in a much more highly regulated environment of care. So the topic is bound to create controversy unless we are more careful in our use of language.

    I would like to believe that it would be possible to design a sufficiently flexible framework of foster care that enabled those for whom it was their prime earning function to be accorded a much fuller professional status. Many of these people have given up all career prospects to devote themselves to foster care, often looking after some of our most challenging children. They deserve and require professional status with the benefits, protections and obligations that come with it. Their financial security depends upon it. Others, like myself, want to retain the essential characteristics of being a volunteer.

    In conclusion, let’s recognise that the ‘professional’ tag as a blanket term is rather unhelpful, and focus on making the diverse army of carers a respected body of people, each able to find their role within fostering in a way that meets society’s diverse needs and recognises the essential individuality of each carer’s commitment to it.

  7. Leslie August 24, 2017 at 7:28 am #

    We are long term foster carers we take up to three teenage boys we work for our local council.
    The views of foster carers are rarely taken into consideration the only thing that seems to be important is ticking boxes and who’s budget is paying for services required.
    We have been fostering since 1993 and because we are classed as self employed will not receive any pension because of this
    If you are a builder or any other trade you are classed as employed in fact it’s law if you work for a single employer yet the government over looks this because they would have to pay you at least minimum wage and pension plus NHS stamp
    We are the forgotten work force funny because everyone else in child care receives wages holiday pay pensions recognition of professional status
    We are definitely not classsed as professional and never will be all the time we are seen as self employed

  8. Karen August 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm #

    We have been fostering long term placements for 15 years. Both children are now adults and we have now decided to again foster 2 special need children to adult hood. I have only in the past year stopped working full time due to the demands of the new children so I can fully meet all their needs. I totally love what I do, have never regretted it for a moment but what has always been for me a big annoyance is whilst all the professionals who come in and out of my children’s lives are paid, as are we, they benefit from work pensions. If we are indeed part of the professional group responsible for the well being and care of the children and let’s be totally honest our jobs are 24/7 then surely we should be able to pay into a work pension. It seems totally unfair that when we do eventually hang up our clogs unlike other professionals such as social workers, nurses etc we will not have the benefit of a good pension after all we pay taxes on what we earn same as everyone else but foster Carers are not looked after. My brother an ex policeman, my sister in law an ex nurse both retired and living on work related pensions yet when I eventually retire in 15 years time nothing has been provided for our profession. I would happily pay in as they did. About time we were showed the same respect and consideration as like theirs our jobs are serving the community