My friend Susan (name changed and permission given) and I fully appreciate the importance of looking after ourselves.
This week I spent two days with Susan, who I met two years ago shortly after she became a foster carer. We were able to reflect that we have both learned from our caring experience, and appreciate the analogy between fostering and a plane crash.
“In the Event of an Emergency it s essential to ensure that your own oxygen mask is firmly in place before you try to help others.”
This is the second time that we have been able to take a short breakaway together to treat ourselves to some coastal walks and pub meals. We felt that this time it would be good to ”escape” from our respective and very different Covid experiences. She was in complete isolation for months while my massive caring responsibility in a busy household actually increased.
Susan has an extensive background in working with young people and really relevant experience in managing a successful business. She felt drawn to become a foster carer to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable young people.
On paper she was the ideal candidate, yet she came to realise, after just under a year, that she just could not continue in her role as a single foster carer. As a new carer her initial placement was short term, with a possibility of going long term. A teenage girl who had already had a succession of carers came to stay with her. The “honeymoon period” was short and the challenging behaviour was intense.
Susan is a resilient woman and stuck with the situation, offering experiences, boundaries and nurture to a teenager who was engaging in highly risky behaviour and who did not want to invest in a relationship with any carer. When the first placement broke down another teenage girl, who had had a series of other carers came to stay. Her behaviours and expectations were very similar to the first placement.
What Susan found really hard was that there was clear evidence that each girl needed to be kept safe and their behaviour needed to change. Sadly each of the girls had a Local Authority Social Worker who was prepared to challenge decisions that she made (in their best interests) to safeguard these vulnerable young girls.
By challenging Susan, the foster carer, in front of the young person, her position as the “adult/ parent” was seriously undermined. Susan felt it very unfair that her decisions would be overruled by the Social Worker, but then it would have to be her that picked up the pieces, out of office hours.
It was unfortunate that the scrutiny that Foster Carers are subjected to, coupled with a lack of support, led Susan to make the decision to put in her notice as a foster carer. She felt frustrated that she would regularly make progress with the young person only to have that undone or to have her motives challenged by the very professionals that she had imagined would be there to offer support.
Susan reflected with me that as a foster carer you are on call 24 /7. You have only two weeks respite per year to recharge. Because the decisions you make about what happens in your own home are open to scrutiny and can be challenged it is very difficult to have true down time and to relax.
As a single carer she felt the situation was compounded because you need to organise cover in order to even take a moment to relax. She was disappointed that there was an expectation that her family and friends would step in and offer to help out if there was a problem /emergency. They had initially agreed to this, but then when the girls arrived there was a realisation that they were very difficult and so the offers of support were withdrawn.
It is recognised that “Nearly half of foster parents quit in their first year of fostering due to lack of support, poor communication with caseworkers, insufficient training to address child’s needs and lack of say in the child’s well-being. Foster parents do their best for children, particularly when they’re valued as important partners”
Susan and I spoke, at length, we knew that our agency valued us , but we had both experienced disregard of us and/or our views/circumstance from some other professionals working with the children. We discussed that we wish that this had been covered as part of our Skills to Foster training as we had been shocked at the disregard shown to us in some situations.
Susan experienced a range of emotions in the days after she ceased to be a foster carer, but now accepts that it just isn’t for some people.
For her it just was not to be – but she would never have known that without investing the time and effort to try it. It was a rapid learning curve with many lessons learned.
Truly fostering is a “wonderful” journey of self-discovery.
Jayne Robbins – A Blogging Foster Carer.