You probably shouldn’t write blog posts when you are angry but today that is exactly what I am going to do.
This morning one of our members forwarded me an email where writer had suggested that this foster carer wouldn’t need any support with the lovely but very high spirited 5 year old girl she cared for on the day of her fathers funeral. The social worker’s reasoning was that as the funeral was starting at 1pm ‘things should be wrapping up before 3 so you could just nip away and collect her from school.’
As a foster carer we get used to hearing the ‘what a wonderful thing to do’ and ‘oh I could never too that’ or my particular bugbear ‘you people are angels’. Can I set the record straight and say that we are not angles or any other sort of mythical beings we are human beings with exactly the same emotions, stresses and failures as the rest of the population. Yes we may have decided to put our knowledge and skills to good use by giving children, who through no fault of their own are in the care of the state, the experience of warm loving family life, but that does certainly not make us robots who can turn off our emotions because it is now 2 hours since we buried our father.
If this was an isolated incident it would be shocking but it is in a similar vein to many other stories we hear. Another member was leaving hospital the day after having her gall bladder removed. She was still on high doses of pain killers and feeling nauseous after the anaesthetic but looking forward to getting home to her own bed. At first she thought it was lovely when her supervising social worker texted to ask how she was only to be shocked to discover that she was expected to pick up the 18 month twins she looked after on her way home from hospital. Anyone who has every looked after one 18 month one, nevermind two will understand that this was not going to lead to her making a swift recovery from her surgery.
Another recent email I was forwarded was suggesting that the foster carer take a 7 year old girl was complex needs down south with her while she visited her dying ex husband in hospital. The rationale ‘she’s quite a handful and it will be time consuming to find another foster carer to look after her’.
So what is the solution, how do we give children the security of as family life that is as normal as possible while still allowing foster carers to be regular people who will occasionally need time out to deal with grief or illness?
As a union our preferred solution would see the introduction of a Mockingbird Model scheme. This is a practical, child and foster carer friendly way of organising groups of fostering carers who live in the same area into constellations of around 10 families which include a ‘hub house’. The family in the hub house will be foster carers who have the room to accommodate children from the grouping in emergencies or at times of high stress or just for a sleepover when everyone is needing a bit of space. The hub house will be somewhere the children are familiar with as the families in the constellation will regularly meet there for social events and the part of the role of the hub house foster carer will be to offer support and advice to other foster carers, particularly those who are new to the role within their constellation.
With such a practical sensible solution out there why is this not happening across Scotland? The answer partly comes down to money. It takes a bit of time and money to set up constellations and to train hub house carers and the local authority or fostering agency has to commit to paying a foster carer to be available even though they won’t always have a child in their care. In the long run I firmly believe that a model like this would save money as foster carers would be better supported, not feel exploited by the kind of situations outlined above and importantly children would be cared for at all times by people who know them and can meet their needs. An evaluation of the scheme when it was piloted in England showed that it increased placement stability ie. led to less moves for children and young people. Surely that alone has got to be reason to invest in this structure?
However I think until we recognise that foster carers are just like everyone else and sometimes need a bit of time to deal with life events and recover physically and emotionally, it will continue to be expected that we alone take the responsibility when times are tough. Fostering services pay lip service to us being ‘part of the team around the child’ and in this role I regularly see foster carers receiving little or no support from that team.