A chance to be strong

    Children are popularly represented as passive, dependent,
    vulnerable and in need of protection or, alternatively, as
    antisocial, deviant, irresponsible and in need of firm social
    control. In other words, adults cast children in the role of either
    victim or villain. What adults tend to think less about is how
    children and young people negotiate difficult circumstances and how
    they draw on their reserves of resilience to overcome life’s
    adversities.(1)

    The Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie), has published a
    resource guide to help child care professionals make a difference
    in the lives of fostered children and young people through focusing
    on factors that enhance resilience.(2)

    A complementary piece of work commissioned by Scie shows that
    focusing on the strengths of young people is crucial to
    outcomes.(3) This means focusing on resilience factors, or things
    that help children and young people to cope, survive and even
    thrive in the face of great hurt and disadvantage.(4)

    Although it may not always be possible to protect a child from
    further adversity, finding ways to boost a child’s resilience
    should enhance the likelihood of better long-term outcomes.
    Resilience-enhancing factors include: 

    • Building a sense of self-esteem.
    • Having at least one close tie with a committed adult.
    • Being happy and involved at school.

    Foster care should offer children these opportunities. In
    particular, a sense of direction is important to young people in
    troubled circumstances because it provides stability and control.
    The involvement of children and young people in planning their care
    is crucial in promoting a feeling of control or self-direction. For
    example, working with young people to develop goals or outcomes can
    help to induce a sense of what the future might hold and how to
    reach it.

    There are several ways professionals can support young
    people’s sense of control: by involving them in discussions
    about their needs and their future; helping them to contribute to
    care plans and reviews; and ensuring that their wishes are always
    considered and where possible addressed.

    They should give clear information, making sure that young
    people know about their reasons for entering and remaining in care,
    their rights while they are in care and how they can influence
    their future plans.

    rofessionals should also try to regard young people as resources
    rather than problems in the process of seeking solutions in their
    lives. They should encourage young people to make choices, declare
    preferences and define outcomes for themselves and respect those
    preferences.

    A second way to promote self-confidence is through the
    participation of young people in the development of services for
    looked-after children. Official guidance has emphasised the
    importance of ensuring that the voices of children in the care
    system are listened to and promoted.

    There are now many systems in local authorities for encouraging
    feedback from young people. In Cambridgeshire a “Just us” group of
    looked-after children meets monthly at three localities. The group
    members were consulted during the Best Value review of the
    authority and contributed to ideas on training staff to work
    sensitively with looked-after children.

    Some councils have used information technology to promote
    children’s participation and improve their service to young
    people. The Kids in Care Together group, set up by Norfolk Council
    has established a website () with helpful information for
    looked-after children, including foster children and young people.
    The group provides advice to the social services department and has
    had a direct impact on policy and practice evaluation and
    change.(5)

    Despite the development of ever more sophisticated means of
    communication, there is still concern that young people’s
    involvement in service planning is confined to the triangle of core
    support: young person, foster carer and social worker. It is within
    this triangle that children and young people exercise their
    influence on day-to-day decision-making, having few or no
    opportunities to comment on service delivery more generally.

    “If I was in charge of social services, I’d listen to them
    [people in care] first, see what they’ve got to say. I
    can’t just make the rules on what I think is best for them,”
    a young person in care told Scie.

    While managers express a commitment to young people having a
    greater say on service development, questions about the
    responsibility of managers and policymakers to creating the right
    conditions for listening, learning and producing change remain
    unanswered and the perspectives and experiences of young people are
    lost.

    The lack of systematic policies and practices to support and
    integrate the feedback from children and young people limits
    opportunities for young people to develop a sense of involvement.
    Where evaluations do exist, the evidence suggests that the
    participation of children and young people is having little impact
    on decisions made in relation to agency policy and practice.(6)

    “If I’m really honest…I don’t know what young
    people in our fostering services think or feel about the care
    they’re getting,” a senior social services manager told
    Scie.

    hat is essential is that social workers, their managers and in
    particular social care agencies recognise that they matter in the
    lives of fostered children and young people by supporting caring
    relationships, ensuring that school is a good experience and
    finding ways to make participation of young people real, not only
    in day-to-day decisions but in service development.

    “Care has brought me to realise I am a person in my own right,
    but I know I have been very lucky – [I have a] good social
    worker, good residential worker and good foster parent,” a young
    person in care told Scie.

     For copies of Resource Guide 4: Promoting Resilience in
    Fostered Children and Young People
    visit , call 020 7089 6840
    or e-mail publications@scie.org.uk

    Abstract

    This article looks at how professionals can make a difference in
    the lives of fostered children and young people. Research shows
    that focusing on the strengths of young people is crucial to future
    outcomes.

    References

    1. R Gilligan (ed), “, in G Kelly and R Gilligan (eds), , Jessica
      Kingsley Publishers, 2000
    2. L Bostock, , , Scie, 2004
    3. K Wilson, I Sinclair, C Taylor, A Pithouse, and C Sellick, , ,
      Scie, 2004
    4. R Gilligan, “, in M Hill and M Shaw (eds), , Baaf Adoption and
      Fostering, 1998 
    5. C Sellick, D Howell, , , Scie, 2003
    6. S Carr, , Scie, 2004

    Further Information

    • B Daniel and S Wassell, , a three-volume set: , Jessica
      Kingsley Publishers, 2002
    • R Gilligan, , BAAF Adoption and Fostering, 2001

    Contact the Author

    Lisa Bostock is senior research analyst at the Social
    Care Institute for Excellence. Her background is in conducting
    social policy research. Her career spans shelf-stacking, being a
    care assistant and conducting research on people’s
    experiences of poverty, health inequality and
    disability.

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