Scrutiny and the Dirty T-Shirt

Today was my annual review. Like everything else concerning social services, this involved a positive orgy of meetings, form filling, checks and double checks before today's appearance in front of a panel of no less than eight people.

I wasn't nervous about it. I tend to assume that anything seriously wrong might have come up before now. Can't really see them flagging up some serious cause for concern and then just leaving it until the annual review!

So, forms and reports were all submitted and, apart from starting nearly 30 minutes late, everything was going swimmingly until suddenly one of the panel members mentioned that a contact supervisor had reported that I once took LB to contact in a dirty t-shirt.

Really? Considering the day-in day-out nature of the job, the level of care I need to deliver, the many meetings I have to attend and forms I have to fill in, the number of professionals I work with weekly and the fact that I've successfully moved a child onto an adoptive placement in the past year, was this review really going to be a conversation about whether I might have sent a 3-month-old to contact in a less-than-pristine t-shirt over four months ago?!

I needn't have worried. The panel member explained that she wanted to know how I had felt about this at the time, and how I had dealt with it with the person concerned. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no recollection of anything being said at the time (not that it wasn't said - just that I move on pretty quickly to the next thing in my head, forgetting stuff that's dealt with or inconsequential!), so actually the panel member found herself apologising to me for bringing it up and making me 'deal with it' in front of the whole panel!

So, in the end, it wasn't really an issue. In fact the panel member said that she was going to speak to the contact service to suggest that this kind of thing shouldn't be dealt with via reports to annual reviews. Indeed! And thankfully the rest of the reports were all very positive and each member of the panel had some very lovely things to say about my work, so I did leave encouraged and cheerful.

But the whole conversation served to remind me how much intense scrutiny I am under practically every day. For my review, reports were received from every social worker I have had contact with over the past year (three of mine, and seven of the children's), every contact supervisor for each child (at least four, maybe more) and the lead Health Visitor for each child (thankfully only one as my HV seeks out my name on new referrals and gets herself assigned to me!).

A minimum of 15 people writing reports about me that I will never see, to be scrutinised by a panel of people that has the annual task of deciding whether I will be allowed to continue as a foster carer. And one of them thinks it's necessary to mention that at one contact out of many, a child's t-shirt was not up to her preferred hygiene standards, despite the fact that there would have been a clean set of clothes in the change bag and it's not, you know, out of the realms of possibility that a 3-month-old might, say, have puked up in the car on the way (I can't imagine what other sort of 'dirt' might be on a baby's t-shirt!). I wonder what she thought the outcome of making that comment would be?

And who do I get to write a report on? Social workers and contact supervisors can be (and are) routinely late to, or absent from arranged appointments, they can fail to communicate vital information, they can disappear on holiday for weeks on end without letting me know, and even leave altogether without saying anything. They can be disrespectful, lazy and disorganised. They can forget and lose important information, and turn up at my house without vital paperwork necessitating time-consuming repeat visits. They can inform me of LAC reviews and other important meetings with less than one-hour's notice. They can change contact times and locations with virtually no notice, or be so late in arranging contacts that I have to move heaven and earth to get us there. They can send me no work for so long that I'm wondering how we'll feed ourselves, and then send children with virtually no history and fail to give me the most basic and necessary information about them. I could go on.

I don't get to write reports or contribute much of anything really. My only recourse is to make an official complaint about a named individual. It would be like clearing a beach by removing grains of sand one by one. Exhausting and ineffective.

So instead, I will have a little moan to my supervising social worker next time I see her and increase my vigilance levels regarding the cleanliness of t-shirts!

Here's to my fourth year!

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