Jo’s Blog – Just for reference…

It’s been 18 months since my husband and I came towards the end of our application process to become Foster Carers. The traditional ‘end’ to this format is always an invitation to attendance at Panel, which I’ve written about in previous blogs. It’s a nerve-wracking element of the fostering process, but for me, it wasn’t the most daunting part.

I should state that this next element does not always happen as part of the fostering approval format, and it depends entirely on your individual agency, your supervising social worker and your individual application case, but in our case, shortly after we were approved, our social worker handed us an envelope that she believed we may wish to look at; just for reference. This envelope contained all the paper copies of the references that she had collated for us during our assessment process. For me, I’d never been less excited to open an envelope since collecting my mediocre A-Level results at the turn of the Millennium.

I’d like to think I’m a people-person in life and in my work, and I pride myself on my ability to generate positive relationships in the majority of situations. In work I’ve built some fantastic partnerships and networks, and away from work I have a good group of friends who span the many different parts of my life.   Other than the boyfriend I (allegedly) selfishly jilted when I was at university, I don’t think too many people dislike me that much. Having said all of this, when the time came to open that envelope full of references, I felt uneasy.

As the applicant, you select your own referees, and obviously you’re going to choose people who can say positive things about you. But, you also know that if these people are doing a good job, they’ll give a full and honest account of who you are and what you’re really like. You respect them for this, and that’s why you’ve chosen them. That familiarity is what makes it all so uneasy.

Having gone through the long and fairly intrusive process of application to become a Foster Carer, you feel vulnerable and as though you’re under a microscope; wondering if that aforementioned ex-boyfriend will somehow get in touch with the agency and reveal what a complete cow you were when you were 18. All of your emotions are heightened, and you’re over-sensitive to what everyone has to say.

When you’re faced with 10 different reference documents and all of them state how you “don’t back down from an argument” or something of equal phrasing, where you once viewed this as a strength in your advocacy for a young person who depends on you to fight their corner amid the countless agencies they’re up against, you now view it as the fact that people think you are, in truth, the complete cow that your ex-boyfriend professed you to be.

The worst thing to read from our envelope was a statement from my mother. She had said that she and my dad only got to see me once a month or so. It’s true, but I didn’t feel comfortable in reading that. 12 times a year, to see the two people I should be closer to than anyone – and they only live half an hour away. I have no idea what the ‘average’ contact is for anyone in a similar situation, but I of course read it negatively, and could almost hear my mum saying the words aloud – complete with dismayed tone of voice at her absentee daughter.

I think if I had to go through the process again, I wouldn’t open that envelope.

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