There have been quite a few changes in my LA recently. I can't call it cost-cutting as apparently the changes didn't actually save any money overall but, unfortunately for me, the net effect is that allowances and expenses that I receive in my particular situation will be reduced. In response to some of these changes, I wrote a letter to some of the big bosses at the LA in which I challenged some of their basic assumptions about what foster carers do and what we need. They replied to my letter, taking each of my points in turn, and reiterating their basic assumptions.
I didn't expect anything different really, but one phrase really took my breath away. The writer was at pains to ensure that I understood that any fostered children I look after should be made a full part of our family life, and that I should handle a particular situation "the way any other parent would do".
The way any other parent would do.
Leaving aside the fact that I am not the parent, that they already have parents and, depending on their legal status, the state may be partly their parent, here's a list of ways in which a short-term foster carer is not like "any other parent":
- I'm not allowed to call myself a parent - the term is 'foster carer'
- In order to become a foster carer I had to go through a gruelling year-long approvals process which resulted in a social worker who was a complete stranger eventually knowing more about me than my closest friends do
- Children can arrive in my home with as little as 90 minutes notice
- They can stay for a few days, a few months or a couple of years, but they will eventually move on
- I have to keep a daily log of all our doings which a social worker will read and sign
- Two different social workers will visit me every 4-6 weeks and, amongst other things, check on the quality of my 'parenting'
- Once a year I have a 360 appraisal of my 'parenting' and every professional I meet from Health Visitors to Contact Supervisors to Nursery Teachers gets to contribute
- I have to attend at least five training events each year in order to maintain my 'parenting' standards
- I must adhere to a strict 'safer caring' policy which affects how we live in our own home
- My home must meet prescribed health and safety requirements, which I am responsible for maintaining
- I have a 'delegated authority' document which details exactly which decisions I'm allowed to make with regards to a child's care, and which I must ask permission for
- I have to take the children to visit their actual parents 3-5 times each week
- If a child has siblings living elsewhere, I probably have to take them to see each other too
- If a child injures themselves or has an accident, social workers will come to my house and I'll have a load of forms to fill in
- If a child becomes ill and has to go to the hospital, I phone the social worker immediately after I phone the ambulance
- If somebody has an allegation about the quality of my parenting, social workers will come to my house, forms will be filled in, any children may be summarily removed and I could lose my livelihood - I might never know the reason why
- My regular babysitters ought to have up-to-date DBS checks (none of them have actually but that's another story!)
- I can't take a child on our family holiday without their actual parent's permission
- I can't take a child for a new hairstyle without their actual parent's permission
- I regularly have to attend meetings, medical appointments etc. pertaining to the child's 'looked after' status, over and above normal childhood requirements
- If I become sick, any children could be removed and I could lose my livelihood
- I must parent each child with love, knowing that one day I will hand that child over to somebody else and may never see or hear from them again
Apparently, foster carers are getting their own union. I have seen some comments querying the value of this, mainly based around the idea that foster carers should be doing it for love, not financial gain (mostly written by people who have never fostered a child). The truth is, we are doing it for love. If I was doing this for financial gain, I wouldn't be doing it. But any idea that foster caring (I'm talking about short-term fostering here) is basically just like having someone to stay as part of your family while everything else carries on as it did before . . . well, it's just plain old-fashioned and wrong.
And what is frustrating me most at the moment is that it is the people who run the system who are the ones holding on so tightly to this idea.