During Foster Care Fortnight, we celebrated the value that foster care brings to our society. There are many different groups of people who come together to achieve great outcomes for children in fostering who are rightly proud of their work.
The difficult task of helping foster children come to terms with their circumstances and participate in family life and ultimately adult society is itself a traumatic experience without the right level of support and encouragement.
Why I’m Proud of Fostering.
Every individual who has been placed in foster care has a different story. Some can be very inspiring, whilst others can elicit strong emotional reactions in those of us who have put ourselves forward, in whichever role, to limit the damage of past experience and suffering, and to plan for a safe, secure, and more confident future.
What we all have to believe is that those young people we have cared for are in a better place now than they might have been if it was not for their time in foster care. Perhaps we also would like to think that those who come into foster care today have a more valuable experience than those who were in care longer ago.
The suffering of abuse then, and now, is no less, but today’s technological advances mean not only extra ways of reaching out from and to those who need it, but also routes of secrecy and control for abusers to disguise their behaviour. I feel sure there are always exceptions to any rule, and most of us who do this work also believe this to be true.
Every Care Giver Needs Support.
Foster carers, social workers and specialists who work with young people all have a high level of influence upon the experience of each child in foster care. The diligence of their ‘back office’ colleagues, such as managers, administrators and other professionals also has a huge impact on the collective effort, and of course, children and young people in care themselves.
Within this most human, and humane, of occupations, we know that when everyone feels valued and supported, together we provide the best environment for the young person. That is, after, the meaning of the word, ‘synergy’, and it is why we have taken this word to embody our working practice and culture as the name of our agency, Synergy Fostering.
Like regular parenting (which doesn’t come with an instruction manual!), we all know that foster care is not perfect, but it is, in many cases, the best alternative available for young people at that important time of their young lives. The quality of the care that young people receive depends to a good degree on the quality of the team that supports the placement and the expertise of the team that supports them.
At Synergy Fostering, our quality of care needs to be able to overcome the difficulties that the child is facing without adding more burden though well intentioned, but poor handling of situations or events. Let’s look at where trauma can occur for young people in foster care.
Before Foster Care.
For some young people, their experience of life before coming into care has been very traumatic. So before any considered foster care plan is worked through by our professional team, what some children need before then is an immediate place of safety.
Synergy foster carers who are well supported and trained for this will be ready to offer the right environment and to learn about the child’s personal background circumstances right from day one. Our carers are a close knit and supportive team of families, and those with a deeper experience of fostering can draw upon this whenever, and more importantly, however, the child or young person chooses to share details about what has happened to them.
Being able to navigate difficult or emotionally charged situations to help the child learn for themselves without projecting your own anxiety on the situation is something we can all do better.
Arriving into Care.
Even if a child has not suffered before they come into care, the process of taking them into care to a strange house away from their parents and friends has the potential to cause trauma in itself. Foster carers learn how to provide a safe and secure environment so that a young person can settle into a new placement and feel valued and safe early on.
Learning to form positive attachments with any child who might be placed with you, and enabling and guiding them to do so with you too, is vital to getting through the early stages of the placement without further trauma.
In the Care System.
As this young person relates, the care system is a strange environment:
‘I have foster parents who I see every day who are not my ‘birth’ parents but they are for me. Then there are these people called ‘corporate parents’, and they discuss my future with me in meetings. Sometimes I ask my foster parents for permission to do things and they can’t let me because someone else has to agree with them or they even have to ask my real parents what they think as well. Who is looking after me?’
I know we all try to normalise this as much as we can but children are smart (emotionally perceptive) and these situations can be distressing and cause trauma in themselves. Foster carers learn how to empathise with these difficulties with young people in a way that is constructive and positive to try and reduce the feeling of being different from other children.
Finding the Right Placement.
One of the most difficult things about foster care for vulnerable children is the potential for further rejection (often called ‘abandonment’). In most cases, children in foster care will already have experienced some form of significant rejection in one way or another and so it’s likely this will be an emotional trigger for them. Every placement ending has the potential for further emotional damage relating to rejection.
There is no magic wand solution for placement stability but every additional hour we can keep a safe placement together is of value. Even when everyone does their level best at referral accuracy, placement matching, introductions and the like there will always be situations we did not expect and triggers we did not know about.
Good preparation is vital to reduce the risks of instability but high-quality training, support and one-to-one coaching are also important to help everyone learn about their role in keeping the placement stable and helping the young people to work through their difficulties and emotional trauma. Remember, it’s not only foster children who have emotional trauma to deal with, we all have something to learn about ourselves that can make us better human beings to live with.
Proud to Support Fostering.
Each time a child in foster care spreads their wings and moves on to independence, we need to ask them how they feel about fostering. Sometimes it takes a while, but ultimately they will be able to say just how valuable our work has been and what difference it has made to their lives for better or worse.
I hope that those people who took the time to make sure they are properly prepared, well supported and fully trained will feel that it’s all been worth it when a foster child (now adult) tells them they are proud of you as their foster parents. So if you are reading this article because you are already supporting fostering then ‘thank you’ and I hope that you will feel rightly valued for all the work you do.
If you’re reading this as part of your research to decide whether you should foster, then please do fostering, but please do it with a supportive and engaging organisation that makes you feel confident and capable of giving high-quality support to help young people in foster care.
About the Author: John Barnes has been connected with fostering since his family fostered back in the eighties. Now John is a management team member for Synergy Fostering, an independent fostering agency based in London that specialises in helping new foster families give high-quality foster care.
Interested in fostering?
Based in south-east London, at 47 St Olav’s Court, 25 Lower Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16 2XB, Synergy Fostering is actively recruiting new foster carers and your call is welcomed for an informal discussion on 020 3713 7293 or 07980 750308. You can also email Synergy’s recruitment team on firstname.lastname@example.org
Public transport: Canada Water and Bermondsey stations on the Jubilee line and Rotherhithe station on London Overground are all within just 5 minutes’ walk of Synergy Fostering’s office, whilst London buses C10, P12, 188, 47, and 381 stop right outside. If you’re driving, simply call ahead to reserve a parking space or use the on-street parking right outside the office.
For access: At the entrance to the office which is on Albion Street please ring the entry intercom for unit 47 so the gate can be remotely unlocked. Synergy Fostering’s office is on the top floor, turning right on leaving the lift.