Tuesday, July 15, 2014


When you foster a child, the deal is that right from the start you are working towards getting them back together with their real parents, unless that's impossible, which is sometimes the case.

The easy part of this arrangement is that it's what the children want. The parents say it's what they want too, most often. Both sets of social workers (the child's and the foster carer's - in my case Blue Sky) want it too. It's the foster carers and the social workers who do the work towards this. I'm not cynical but the real parents never seem willing or able to put themselves out much.

Modern life has identified a new type of parent, the "Sandwich Generation"; people who are looking after their children and their parents.

Modern foster carers are the "Club Sandwich Generation." We're looking after our children and maybe our parents and someone else's children. And someone else's parents.

It doesn't say it on the tin, but foster carers have to do what you  might call distance-caring of the real parents.

When we get our file on why the child has been removed it's natural to feel negative about the real parents. That's human, and you can't be a foster carer if you're not human.

But the job is to get the child home, and that means we have to find it in ourselves to get a positive attitude towards the real parents and their family arrangements. This is especially hard because, unfortunately, the real parents don't often have a positive attitude towards the foster carer.

Understandable really, because the situation is loaded with implications that we're better parents than they are.

Sometimes the real parents have already begun some negativity towards us before the child is removed; telling the child scary stories about what happens to children who are taken into care. Foster children are often told by the real parents that foster carers are "only in it for the money".

Sometimes the real parents continue the campaign at Contact. If you turn up with your foster child and the weather is remotely changeable the real parent might greet you with "Why hasn't he got a coat, he'll freeze". I remember the first time I took a child to Contact the mother was waiting in the car park. She seemed to sense I was feeling my way and kept rolling her eyes at my wet-behind-the-ears rookie approach; "You can't hand him over to me outside until there's a social worker present." She reeled off as much expertise as she knew "He shouldn't have had his tea because at Contact we're expected to give them tea." "You have to be waiting right at the door afterwards for the social worker to bring him to you." "You should wait in the car the whole time in case he flips and Contact has to end early".

It's easy to feel sympathy for a looked-after child. Carers get a full report on what has happened to them. It's harder to feel sympathy for the real parents. We don't know enough about how and why they've ended up having their children removed. Occasionally we get some titbits of background about the parents. "Her mother was in and out of care herself" or "His stepfather used to put out cigarettes on his arm".

I guess there are data protection reasons or human rights privacy issues. Or maybe it's just that it's no-one's job to dig into the parents background. Or maybe the parents just blank any attempt to get their story.  If we had that information would make it easier to do our job? If we can't find it in us to care for the real parents, what are we doing working towards sending their children back to them?


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