Social work diary: ‘The foster carers sit silently with tears rolling down their cheeks’

One of the toughest things about this job is facing situations that just cannot be rescued, writes an anonymous social worker

By an anonymous social worker


I return to work after a period of sickness. It’s great to see the team. I find out that two young people have had a series of placement breakdowns, two have attempted to take their own lives and one young person has disclosed that they were sexually assaulted when they lived at home. On the plus side, the other children and young people on our caseload have had no major catastrophes.

My first task is to try to prevent a child’s long-term placement from breaking down. The foster carers don’t feel able to manage the child’s aggressive behaviour anymore. They tell me that they have been struggling for a number of months and that the child has to leave by the end of the week.

I’m angry and sad. I’d like to think that there would be a commitment to this child. However the reality is that the carer’s birth child is living with a family friend as they are so scared of the foster child. There are some situations in social work that just cannot be rescued.


This morning I make contact with the child’s mother to explain that her child will be moved to a new foster placement. Mother is heartbroken. She asks: ‘How do you know that the next placement will be right?’ The truth of the matter is that I don’t. I have had one positive placement match back, which is out-of-area. The child has to be out of the current placement by the end of the week. I’m running out of time and options. In these instances honesty is always the best policy.


I spend a hefty chunk of my morning cleaning my desk and completing admin tasks. I get extremely frustrated with the amount of admin tasks that I complete. It’s an ineffective use of resources. I reflect on Eileen Munro’s comments about newly qualified social workers being treated akin to junior doctors.

I am an experienced social worker and I do all of my own admin tasks. I seriously question whether an experienced doctor would be expected to do this. Surely doctors should be left to get on with their professional expertise of preventing disease and saving lives. Should social workers not be able to get on with preventing abuse and saving lives?


I notice that I missed a call from a teenager last night. I learn that he has taken an overdose and is in hospital. I consider how important my role is. This young person rang me because he needed my help and I wasn’t there for him.

I arrange a joint visit with the child and adolescent mental health service. The teenager gives no assurances that he will not take the same action again. We agree that the young person will remain in hospital subject to further psychiatric evaluation.

I am grateful that he is on the children’s ward. Sadly, when dealing with a young person in a similar situation some months previous, she was admitted onto an adult ward which caused her significant distress.


Today is going to be a difficult day. I’ve prepared myself for this by treating myself to a take out breakfast.

First task is to manage the move of the child from the fostering placement that has broken down. It’s one of the most difficult tasks that I have ever had to face. The child calls the carers ‘mum and dad’. The child cries and says:”I just need one more chance”. The foster carers sit silently with tears rolling down their cheeks, their minds well and truly made up but their hearts remain uncertain.

The afternoon visit goes no better. I go for a drive with an angry teenager. She knows I have been ill, yet it doesn’t stop her from experiencing intense rejection, a theme which has been recurrent throughout her life.

She tells me that I ‘owe her’. She cries and screams various unpleasant remarks about herself and begins to punch the car door. Passers by stare. I stop the car on a quiet bit of the road. She puts her head on my chest and cries for an hour and then asks if we can go to McDonalds which we proceed to do. First week back is always tricky.

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3 Responses to Social work diary: ‘The foster carers sit silently with tears rolling down their cheeks’

  1. Kate June 19, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    So. The carers birth child has had to move out of the family home? How much more ‘commitment’ do you need? Wouldyou allow that in your home?
    You get holidays, lunch breaks etc.
    Try doing a foster carers ‘job’ for a day and show some respect!
    Deciding to end a placement is the hardest decision EVER.

  2. Rose Thompson June 19, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Oh dear I am not surprise about Foster Carers sitting down crying, has anyone asked why foster carers is crying and what help/support require? I speak to foster carers in my church and two of them have informed me that they only have one training session prior to them given two children. They also said that the child social worker didn’t visited until three week after the child was place.

    I went on the Locial Authorities website and print off information about fostering and the training requirements and suggested they phone the social workers and arrange a meeting ASAP. I am happy I could help with this situation, once a child is taken into care a children and families social worker is appointed to the child and appropriate assessment is completed and the balling keep rolling whether the child/young person is long or short term care.

    My take to this Foster Carers require better support especially if the child/young person has challening behaviour or dual diagnosed. Some Foster Carers don’t informed is the young person has displaying harmful sexual behaviour or actively misusing drugs. Foster Carers require this information to protect their own children and others.

  3. Christine June 22, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Fostering is a very challenging job, I am a social worker who supervises foster carers – the dynamics within a family always change. We don’t get all of the information often about children/young people that is true, but is 99% definately not because anyone is withholding it, children/young people come into care in very challenging circumstances, some known but a lot not known to the LAs…. we don’t have crystal balls and quick assessments have to be made…about which families these children/young people will be matched to… the first priority is to safeguard and protect, but we equally have a duty to protect the fostering family….. its a challenge. Foster carers need to build positive relationships with their own Supervising Social Workers and trust that they will guide and support them through what will be a mix of positive and not so positive experiences …. that is equally part of the learning experience….. No amount of training at the outset of anyone’s fostering career, if they have never fostered before can prepare a foster carer/family for the actual realities of having a child/young person in your home…. we have to walk a mile in each other’s shoes to fully begin to work together and that includes walking a mile in the child/young person’s shoes – what brought them to this place! As social workers we are often dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t…..either way we are are all human beings trying to make a difference to children/young people in whatever way we can.