As the council unveils its underspend, desks lie empty in children’s services

Our local authority's failure to retain supervising social workers is leaving carers vulnerable, a foster carer writes

empty desk
Photo: Design Pics Inc/REX/Shuttershock

By a foster carer

During training courses for foster carers, I’m the one who sits alone at the back. I do this to avoid the inevitable group slating of social workers by other foster carers.

You see, I actually like frontline social workers, the majority of whom are excellent. My gripe is with the sheep that lead these lions – politicians and management.

When I became a foster carer, I was left in no doubt that the child’s best interests was paramount. However, I have since learned the caveat – best interests are important, provided they suit the council executive and their appointed service managers.

No supervising social worker

The latest challenge I face is not having a supervising social worker. Officially we haven’t had one for six weeks but in reality a brief statutory unannounced visit in early January is the only contact we’ve had since November

We are shortly due to start ‘introductions’ for one of our short term placements moving to adoption.

Our previous social worker joked that we don’t need supervising. That’s probably true as we are old hands at moving children to permanency but in reality we feel cut loose, unsupported and unrepresented. This shouldn’t affect the child or the adopters who have excellent social workers, but what if something were to go wrong and the potential adoption breaks down?

The public sector is enshrined in backside covering but foster carers have no management to cover ours or no union to support and represent us. A bad outcome could affect our fostering future and the wellbeing of all our placements.

‘Who blinks first’

I sit on fostering panels and it is clear that one of the main reasons for breakdowns in fostering placements is poor supervision received by foster carers and constant changes of supervising social worker.

This has left the foster carers vulnerable to making mistakes, ignorant of procedures/regulations and more likely to face accusations.

Local politicians appear to be engaging in a game of ‘who blinks first’ with the government by running the services on reduced budgets then pointing their finger at the government, who then point back.

The losers I see are the children, their social workers and foster carers who struggle on while the local politicians responsible take time out to deliver leaflets for the forthcoming local elections, mundanely tweeting as they go.

Children’s service in profit

Our children’s service underspent its budget the year before last, principally due to non-retention and poor acquisition of experienced front line social workers. No matter, the leaflet deliverers wanted cuts, the sheep complied and the sitting ducks, the foster carers, were in their sights.

The foster carers duly got on with it, desks remain empty at children’s services and the agency social workers have been given extended contracts. The council have just announced a multi-million pound underspend for the last financial year.

The inability to attract and retain social workers shows a fundamental failing in the service but there appears little appetite to address the issue and anyway, the leaflet droppers can cover for the sheep by blaming everybody’s favourite pantomime baddies at Westminster.

I wouldn’t want to be a supervising social worker. Foster carers are clever enough to know when things aren’t right but not clever enough to pick their battles and supervising social workers end up being piggy in the middle unable to assuage them. But we deserve the support of one to ensure that we are doing the very best for the children we care for.

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2 Responses to As the council unveils its underspend, desks lie empty in children’s services

  1. Jenni Randall April 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    Absolutely agree with this. I have worked as an agency worker in a local authority where foster carers have no supervising SW and fell as you do, unrepresented and unsupported. Many like you were very experienced carers who for the most part can deal with the majority of issues but that is not the point, a relationship with a consistent supervising Sw will pay dividends for both child and carer when something happens and they do need support. Preventing breakdown and loss of carers in some cases. I believe that social workers need to stop being political cowards and start taking up the cause at a political level of the children and young people and carers and for themselves until this happens we are all getting walked over.

  2. julie elliott April 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    I am appalled at this, but not surprised as we hear a lot worse. Local Authority Fostering Services with 200 households and 4 Supervising Social Workers (1 off long term sick), IFAs cutting services to ensure they keep their profits…we have foster carers that have transferred to us (a quality, ethical IFA) who tell us their horror stories.
    please remember, there are Regulations, Minimum Standards, Ofsted and IROs (who should be independent). Our children deserve better…