Watchful eye

There has been a recent shift of emphasis from supportive visits
to foster carers towards formal supervision. Perhaps the Fostering
Network leaflet about meetings with social workers illustrates
this; the previous version had a picture of a teapot, the current
one has pictures of children.

The change is driven by the National Minimum Standards for
Fostering, implemented in April 2002 as part of the Care Standards
Act 2000. Standard 22 states: “The fostering service is a managed
one which provides supervision for foster carers and helps them to
develop their skills.”1 It goes on to say how this will
be achieved. One way is that carers receive supervision from a
qualified worker, together with details of support and information
about complaints and allegations procedures.

The UK National Standards for Fostering went further by stipulating
that all carers with a child in placement should be visited by or
speak with a qualified social worker at least monthly. These
standards also recommend special attention be given to the support
and training of carers’ sons and daughters.2

Some social workers and carers may be resistant to the concept of
supervision. For some it is the word itself which is seen to imply
a lack of trust and to challenge the concept of a supportive
partnership. Others express concerns about its relevance to kinship
carers and short-break carers.

Supervision is about accountability and support. It provides a
definite time to give feedback to carers, and to identify actions
needed by all those involved with the child. It also provides a
regular time for feedback from the carer to the social worker and
agency. Ultimately, its purpose is to ensure children and young
people receive the best service possible. Their safety from any
kind of abuse must be at the top of the agenda.

Social workers can make a difference to how carers perceive
supervision by the way they introduce it. It should be presented as
a positive national development and a useful tool to support the
placement. It can enable patterns and triggers of behaviour to be
recognised, and to provide information for children’s

Supervision is also part of carers own development, for example,
towards their annual reviews, S/NVQs, and payment for skills
schemes. With the recent introduction of competency-based
assessment, some carers are already familiar with developing their

Supervision agreements should provide an opportunity to discuss
purpose, frequency, venue, involvement of family members,
confidentiality, and how equality issues will be addressed. Aspects
of supervision which are negotiable and those which are not can be

A supervision record should be kept as a useful record of
discussions and actions agreed. It is also evidence of a more
transparent relationship between carer and the agency. Records can
be particularly useful in the case of an allegation. Carers must
have a copy of the supervision record, and of any changes to it
immediately or within a few days. Supervision records can be
structured into:

  • Issues concerning children placed, including
  • Issues concerning the carer and their family, including
    standards of care.
  • Training, development and support.

A useful model for supervision in foster care settings is to
consider key functions such as: managerial, educative and
supportive. The managerial function focuses on actions needed to
meet standards of care. The educative function reflects on carers’
reactions and practice development. The supportive function
addresses the emotional impact of fostering and identifies support
services available. An additional key function in foster care
settings is information sharing, for example, about children placed
and forthcoming events.

The adult learning conscious and unconscious competence model is
also relevant, particularly to develop and reinforce safer caring
practice. It can help carers who have an instinctive ability to
work with children and families to identify skills they have, and
those they could develop further.

Studies of carers and family placement social workers consistently
show carers rate their support highly. For example, one social
worker reported: “Foster carers valued the support of their link
workers and, because they respected their abilities, willingly
accepted constructive criticism and the need to be accountable for
their work.”3 Supervision is a development of the relationship
rather than a threat to it. And carers and social workers can still
have a cup of tea together. Perhaps the supervision agreement will
include taking turns to make it.

Joanna McCann is a child care trainer and consultant.
She developed and is the author of Assessing Foster Carers: A
Guide to Competency Assessments.


1 Department of Health, National Minimum Standards
for Fostering Services
, 2002

2 Fostering Network, UK National Standards for
Foster Care
, 1999

3 Clive Sellick, “The role of social workers in
supporting and developing the work of foster carers”, Adoption
and Foster
ing Volume 20 Number 2, 1996

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