Lucy Stevens - 25th May 2023
It often comes as a surprise to prospective foster carers when they first realise the number of professionals that work with children in foster care. Often the first introduction foster carers get to the professional community is during the Preparation to Foster training, which takes place during the assessment process.
“It was the first time, I fully appreciated just how many professionals are involved with the children and how important it must be to invest in these relationships,” said one of our recently approved carers.
This was an astutely made point. It is indeed important to build good relationships within the professional community, to understand their roles, their objectives and how best to work with them to promote the well being of the children you are fostering.
It’s also no bad thing to realise that this can be overwhelming as a foster carer and to remember how it must sometimes feel for children who live with a high degree of scrutiny.
Which professionals make up the fostering community?
The number of professionals surrounding a child in foster care will vary according to the circumstances, history and current needs of the child. In addition to the foster carer, every child will have a Local Authority Social Worker or a personal adviser if over the age of 18.
Local Authority Social Worker
Every child under 18 will have a local authority social worker. The fullness of their role depends on the status of the child. The Local Authority may have full parental responsibility for the child, for instance. All local authority social workers have the responsibility of implementing, following, supporting or advocating for the care plan for the child. As such, it is important that carers can feed into this process by regular, open communication and the establishment of a good working relationship. The social worker will have a legal obligation to see the child regularly; the exact timeframe will vary according to the individual needs and circumstances of the child but it will be specific. The social worker will ultimately be responsible for all areas of the care plan: education, health, emotional well-being etc. It is ultimately the foster carer who is involved most heavily day-to-day in all of these areas. An important part of the foster carer’s role is to feed their observations back to the social worker and advocate for the child. This is why a good working relationship is so important; it allows the voice of the child to be heard and responded to.
Children in foster care will have regular statutory health checks. These are usually carried out by a dedicated nurse. They are responsible for tracking the physical health of the child, but they may also identify any issues relating to mental health. Foster carers will be able to raise any concerns with the nurse and the nurse will be able to make recommendations if further input is needed. Foster carers also build relationships with GPs, dentists, opticians as children require regular appointments with these professionals also!
Education is a vital part of childhood and for children in foster care, there is a significant onus placed on it. There are regular meetings devoted to the education plans for a child. These meetings review progress, identify needs and set out changes to the current education plan. The education community will include foster carers, Local Authority Social Workers, supervising social workers (social workers dedicated to foster carers and their families), teachers, virtual schools, SEN professionals, pastoral professionals, careers advisors and anyone else who plays a role in the delivery of education for that specific child. Each review meeting will look at previous objectives and action points and will determine new objectives and areas for further support. Foster carers work closely with the children and with schools to support their educational needs, so it is often carers who have the most rounded view of how children are doing, what they are excelling at and what they need further support in. The quality of the relationships within this community are crucial in determining the educational outcomes for children in foster care. These relationships need to be pursued and nurtured by foster carers and foster carers should be able to play a major role in the advocacy of children and young people where their education is concerned.
Mental health professionals
Many children in foster care will have experienced loss and trauma. As such it is very common for children and young people to display signs of poor mental health. Foster carers need to support children in many ways from helping them to recognise and accept their feelings to reporting areas for concern that may be affecting carers’ ability to keep children safe and healthy. Carers may need to work with Mental Health agencies such as CAMHS or they may advocate for the child to have access to therapists or other professionals. Many carers at Eastern Fostering Services work closely with our therapist to understand how to therapeutically parent, to exchange ideas and techniques for managing mental health or to talk through their own struggles in managing some of the more difficult aspects of caring for a child or young person with mental health conditions.
Advocates or direct workers
Many Local Authorities offer an advocacy service for young people. These professionals will build a relationship with young people, understand their individual needs and desires and effectively be their voice with other professionals. They will visit regularly and usually take the young person out so that they can spend quality time together. Advocates are often very significant in the lives of young people in foster care; their impartiality and desire to represent the voice of the child faithfully means that they can really inspire openness and trust.
Similarly, direct workers, like Paul at Eastern Fostering Services play an important role in offering an additional person for children to spend time with and share any concerns. These professionals will have a varied remit from taking children out for treats, talking through problems, supervising contact, transporting to appointments and organising days out for the children in the fostering community.
Fostering provider Supervising Social Workers
These professionals are social workers employed by a fostering provider to support foster carers and their families. In reality, and certainly at Eastern Fostering Services, the role is much more in-depth. Often, they are the glue that holds all the relationships together as they communicate with all professionals to advocate for the carers and children they foster. They also play a major role in supporting the children and young people, regularly spending time with them and talking to them about anything that they may want to get off their chests. They will be present at all professionals’ meetings and will be able to represent the voice of the carers and children should they need to be reinforced. Supervising social workers contribute significantly to the longevity of fostering placements through the support and advocacy they offer. They meet regularly with carers and liaise with other professionals to ensure that the best interests of the children and young people are met.
Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO)
The role of the IRO is to scrutinise the care plans for the children and young people in foster care and to ensure they are being delivered faithfully. They will often host and lead review meetings and will ensure that all professionals are doing what is expected of them in order to deliver best practise for the children and young people concerned. They can require and ask for further action, input or change to make sure that the best outcomes are achieved. As the name suggests, they should be independent of the Local Authority and have as their focus the well-being of the child. Foster carers can escalate any concerns or issues to the IRO if they feel they are having an adverse effect on the child.
There may well be other professionals involved with delivering holistic care to children and young people. This community is varied and full of expert knowledge and skill. The relationships formed within the professional fostering community have a direct impact on the outcomes for children. As always, the foster carer is pivotal. It is no mean feat to manage and nurture these relationships to get the best out of them. Yet foster carers do this day by day in order to promote the needs and wishes of the children they foster.
We’d like to acknowledge and thank all the professionals who work so hard to ensure that a holistic package of care is provided to the children we foster, and we’d like to particularly thank our foster carers for getting the very best out of them!