My recent blog about a disappointing experience at the start of a new placement garnered a lot of comments, the vast majority of which were supportive. Of course, I am most struck by the one comment that was not.
It was a former foster carer, adoptive parent and, now, social worker, who felt offended by what I wrote. She felt that this 'sarcastic' and 'derogatory' piece should not have been published without 'context' in such a public way. She was upset by the piece and, for that, I am sorry.
You see, I don't hate social workers. I don't think they are rubbish or useless or undeserving of respect. My purpose in writing that post was not to belittle social workers or other professionals, or the work that they do. In fact, my purpose in writing that post was simply to get my thoughts down on 'paper' after a difficult and disappointing day. I do little more here than to tell something of my story. On that particular day, that was my story. It's been a similar story on lots of other days too. I'm not sorry I shared it. I wouldn't change a word of it.
But perhaps there is a serious point here. Social workers and other professionals have unwieldy case loads and lots of children and families to work with. Foster carers have tiny case loads in comparison. I am approved for two children, but usually have one. This means that I don't have to divide my attention. I am totally focused on the child in my care. I don't actually expect the social worker to know details such as a child's birth weight off the top of their head. That's just one of many hundreds of bits of information they will encounter each week. But, as the child's foster carer, I make it my business to know.
What baffles me is why so many of the professionals I encounter don't acknowledge that. Why don't they don't automatically turn to me for this information instead of scrabbling through their immense paperwork? Why does the LAC doctor ask the social worker for details of a child's immunisations at the pre-adoption medical when I am sitting right there? After all, I was the one who took the child to those appointments.
This is not about my bruised feelings. I have heard so much from adopters who feel as though their child's social worker did not give them all the information they needed to know prior to placement. This does not surprise me. I recently moved BG on to adoption. Her social worker visited us every 6 weeks for approximately 45 minutes. She took the case on in April and BG moved on in early November. So she probably visited us, say, five or six times (being generous). The social worker who was responsible for family finding for BG met her twice prior to the first day of introductions. I lived with her continuously for 10 months. The social workers have the official paperwork, containing information gathered from a range of professionals over the months, yes, but it is the foster carer who has the full-colour image of the child, created moment by moment over the duration of the placement. These two perspectives on the child are both vital and must come together if the potential adopters are going to have the clearest picture.
When it came to BG's intros, the family finding social worker came on day one and observed from the sofa. We had a short review meeting on day 5. On day 7, handover day, BG's social worker came to hand over paperwork. The rest of the time it was me managing expectations, dealing with emotions, ensuring transfer of attachment, walking a tightrope. I'm not complaining. It's my job. But I have received no specific training for it - I'm just totally winging it every time.
None of this is intended to be a criticism of the social workers involved. They are doing their jobs within the parameters that are handed down to them. Some are excellent, some poor, and others fill every position in between. What rankles is the clear sense I often get from the professional team that they are the ones that have achieved this when actually, so much of what must be done falls within the role of the foster carer, not the 'professionals'. The smoothness and success of such a major transition as intros must surely rely in large part on the professionalism and sensitivity of the foster carer involved. Sadly, I have heard of some real horror stories where foster carers made intros a nightmare for the child and the adopters.
In fact, my offended commenter pointed out that she could tell many tales of terrible foster carers (I have no doubt that she could) and although some will "work with [social workers]", others are very poor. In saying this, she pointed out my concern exactly. So many professionals expect foster carers to work with them. There is little expectation that we will work together. The professionals call the shots and the foster carers 'work with' (or perhaps 'for'!).
This is perhaps understandable when the role of the foster carer is held in such low regard, when training is patchy and fairly low level, when even tutors on Social Work degree courses express the opinion that paying foster carers is a bad idea because they should be doing it 'for the love of the children'. Perhaps if foster caring was more professionalised, if the complexity of the role was recognised through better, more in-depth training, and foster carers were truly and universally seen as part of the professional Team Around the Child, then we could actually help to lighten the load of social workers, manage transitions more effectively and handle placement difficulties more creatively to reduce breakdowns.
Perhaps then, in the discharge planning meeting, the social workers could relax about knowing details such as birth weight because they could feel confident that the foster carer would be on top of it and, more importantly, that the others in the room would recognise the foster carer's knowledge and expertise and go straight to them for the information, rather than putting the social worker under the pressure of rooting through their notes for the right answer. Then the social worker could concentrate on doing the things that only they can do. We can help you better if you recognise how we can help you!
Just a final note. My offended commenter was of the opinion that what I described in my account was all part of the foster carer's job, just as paperwork, meetings and long hours are part of a social worker's job. During training I was told that when a new placement started, children would be brought to my home by a social worker who would give me all the information I needed to know. In reality, I have been asked to be present at the removal of three out of the five children I have fostered. In every single case, I have been the person to actually physically remove the child from the mother. I was specifically told that this would not be part of my job. What does and does not constitute 'part of the job' is clearly open to debate.
But this I know for sure. When a social worker gets to the end of their long hours, they go home and leave their place of work. My home is my place of work. Don't talk to me about long hours. It's insulting.