by Daniel Sinclair
Words can imbue so much meaning, but are so often misinterpreted or misused – and can simply carry different meanings for different people.
In the fostering community, the word ‘professional’ is currently under the spotlight. Foster carers, fostering services, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), unions, and organisations such as Coram BAAF and The Fostering Network have all been using the word in the context of whether or not foster carers ought to be considered as such.
But at The Fostering Network, we’re concerned that ‘professional’ is being used to mean different things by different people – and that that confusion is in danger of creating more heat than light.
Coram BAAF’s Paul Adams began a recent article on Community Care by stating that the ADCS is “opposed to the professionalisation of foster carers, while The Fostering Network is said to be ‘in favour of moving towards a professional foster carer workforce.
“So what should we make of this apparent disagreement?” Adams asked.
A false dichotomy
While we agree with much of what Adams’ article says, we dispute the drawing of hard boundaries between ‘traditional’ and ‘professional’.
Adams writes that: “In contrast to the ‘professional’ foster carer there are also what is sometimes called ‘traditional’ foster carers; motivated not by a sense of career, but rather by the desire to offer children the opportunity to be full members of their family.”
The Fostering Network rejects this dichotomy. Being treated as a professional and having a desire to offer a child the opportunity to be a full member of your family are not mutually exclusive. Showing love and being a professional are not opposite ends of a spectrum.
Indeed, it could be argued that if you are going to be a foster carer for a young person until they are 21, it is absolutely essential you are seen as the key professional in the life of that young person. If not, your parenting decisions may be regularly undermined.
Professional not impersonal
The question shouldn’t be whether foster carers are professionals but, rather, ‘Why are foster carers often not treated as such by their co-professionals?’
Foster carers are professionals – whether they are long-term, short-term, emergency or respite carers – who bring the training, skills and experience that they have to the vitally important role of caring for children. Foster carers have to be able to provide these things to children who may well have experienced significant trauma and abuse, and they need to be able to relate to a wide range of other professionals.
I suspect there are few who would dispute the above observation of foster carers’ capabilities – so perhaps the confusion is caused by this word ‘professional’. By professional, The Fostering Network means that foster carers are supervised, trained, skilled and experienced – and ought to be well respected, sufficiently remunerated, offered ongoing training and properly supported.
Being professional, we would argue, does not preclude the place of love and parenting in the role of fostering.
Being a foster carer, even a foster carer who is looking after one child, or a sibling group, for many years, is not simply parenting or ‘parenting plus’. It’s never less than that, but it’s so much more.
The needs of most fostered children and the system within which foster carers work require them to be childcare experts at the heart of the team. Now, we need them to be consistently treated as such.