‘It’s just as challenging as social work’: Meet the social workers who foster

Ever wondered what it's like to juggle the demands of foster care on top of the pressures of a social work career? Two social workers explain how they did it and what its taught them about social work

Working as foster carers showed Jason Evans* and Sarah Moss* that the task is just as tough, and important, as their day jobs

‘Fostering has more impact on the day-to-day quality of someone’s life’

Sarah Moss*, mental health social worker and former foster carer: I wanted to be a foster carer long before I wanted to be a social worker, but time, space and personal circumstances needed to align in the right way. When the opportunity came, my partner and I went to the relevant information sessions and, after thought and consideration, decided to move ahead.

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I felt being a social worker may be an advantage. Although I hadn’t worked in children’s services, I’d been a mental health social worker for years and had a lot of friends and contacts who’d worked in different areas of social work. I knew the systems around local authorities and felt many of my social work skills would be directly transferable.

I became used to the social worker who was doing our assessment popping up at different times and began to understand, in a different way, the power issues involved in social work. After years of trying to reassure people they didn’t need to tidy up for my visits, I was taking afternoons off work (annual leave, of course) to prepare for the social worker’s visits.

When the first child came, I truly understood the role of a foster carer. As with social work, it requires skill, confidence and expertise. I worry when I hear other social workers being dismissive of foster carers; the role is just as challenging as my profession.

I’ve been used to playing an advocacy role at work, but the instinctive protective nature takes over in a very different way when a foster child arrives, particularly if I see what I consider to be poor practice. When I have a child in my care, I would challenge any person or organisation that prevented me providing them with the best care.

I have also developed an understanding of poverty in a much sharper way, even though I’d seen it at work many times over many years through my work. When a child walks into your home, which you regard as a dingy flat, with their eyes aghast at the amount of opulence, you realise the importance of perspectives and feel gratitude in a different way.

In retrospect, knowing the difference I made, I think it will be the fostering that has more of an impact on improving the day-to-day quality of someone’s life. There’s something wonderful about being able to be there for a child when they need it.

  •  Sarah’s advice for social workers who foster, or are thinking of fostering:

  • Make things as easy as possible for your social worker, but remember the foster carer role is for the child not the organisation. All those advocacy skills learnt in social work really do come to the fore.

  • At times you will feel disempowered by the strength of the organisation and the system. Remember those feelings and use them in your own practice.

  • You will need support around you. My partner was based at home and I had networks close by.

  • Speak to your employer and ensure they are understanding. Having understanding and sensitive employers was absolutely crucial to me and my ability to manage the two roles simultaneously.

  • Be aware of boundaries and remember that you will be seen through different eyes; foster caring needs as much skill, knowledge and understanding as social work but the professional status is not accorded to foster carers.

What does it take to be a foster carer? Check out our guide to fostering

‘Foster care is under-appreciated by social workers’

Jason Evans*, adults services social worker and foster carer: As a social worker, I work in adult autism services, but my wife and I also foster young children for our local authority. Our experience of becoming foster parents gave me a real insight into what child care professionals expect of applicants, and how the intensive process can be both demanding and intimidating.

The approval meeting of the foster care panel was a real lesson in how attending these meetings for non-professionals can be hard. Feeling nervous, we were shown into a room full of people and were asked to sit in front of them, but we had no way of distinguishing who was who. Some introduced themselves, others didn’t.

The arrival of our first baby placement – a three-day-old girl delivered straight from hospital – was an insight into how social workers can be so rushed that they overlook even the most basic handover needs. The social workers stayed just long enough to set the baby down in the lounge. They must have been running late as they hovered uncomfortably with no intention of taking off their coats. I expected to hear squealing car tyres as they left!

On the whole, we’ve had constructive, open working relationships with the placing and supporting social workers. On a few occasions, it’s seemed that foster parents are the last people to be consulted on even routine matters, like meeting times – yet they’re expected to be at them, regardless of their inconvenience.

Being a foster parent is both challenging and rewarding, but my experience over the past five years is that the role is still under-appreciated by the social workers who need the placements we offer.

*Both names have been changed

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