Capstone Foster Care Blog

I was at an event recently where a variety of foster carers were present. After all the talks were presented there was some entertainment and a lad in his early twenties stood up and said that he would be doing a magic show. He did two tricks and I can honestly say hand on heart I have no idea how he did them. They were really, really good. The other thing that struck me was how confident this young man was. He fielded the audience with ease, he was funny and could handle himself one on one with strangers as he coerced them into his bidding for the tricks.

Earlier in the day I had heard from a single male carer who spoke of having four lads in his care. It sounded like hard work but he praised them all and even made jokes about them all having girlfriends when he could not get one himself! The chap who did the tricks was one of his kids and I have to say I had one eye on the act and one eye on the carer. He seemed to laugh and clap louder than anyone else and was closer to the edge of his seat when it came to the reveal of each illusion.

As I observed I felt a profound sense of connection to that carer. He was experiencing what we all want : to see our young people not only to survive but thrive. His foster son was going places and we all knew it. I also felt drawn to the stories that he had not told that day. The ones where no doubt there were challenging behaviors and arguments, etc. Yet here in this moment was the culmination of a lad who was at university, who was bright and engaging, he was on his own path and he invited us to share his talents. What a fantastic testimony for this young man and his carer.

For those of you who have made it through and have success stories I implore you tell other carers about them. It can be really hard when the end is not in sight. Tell people even when you are not sure they will want to hear it. You are not boasting, you are celebrating. You championed them and you saw them prevail, that should be shouted from the rooftops. Equally, if you are a care leaver and are getting on with your life you need to tell your story too. I know what you are thinking, there is nothing special about you. Well, we will be the judge of that and I’m sorry to tell you but I think you are very, very wrong.

James


Louise shared with me recently about a situation which she had come across with two foster families. For one family they had been told by the local authority that they cared too much for the young person who was with them and that they ought to be more hands off and less emotionally involved. The other family were with another local authority and they had been told that they did not care enough and should be exactly the opposite of the example above!

There is, of course, much more context around these two situations however Louise knows that both the families are basically in the same place and both have the same intent and interest towards their kids. So which of these authorities is right? I have wrestled with this question and concluded that actually I think it is the wrong question to ask. The right question is more like, how come these two authorities are coming to two different conclusions?

Anyone who has been a carer for a while knows that the network around the young person they are looking after can be the make or break of a placement. If you have a particularly risk averse social worker or uncontactable manager you will really struggle. Equally if you have an advocate or team which goes the extra mile to know your kids the likelihood is that the situation will be much better read. The problem is is that we often don’t know which situation we will find ourselves in and heart ache and further trauma can be incurred if we see bad decisions being made when we desperately want to serve the kids.

Of course there is no magic wand for this but I would encourage you to try some ideas. Wherever possible try to get to know social workers and the people around your kids. Hold your ground in meetings – don’t let anyone tell you that your opinion is at the bottom of the list in terms of importance. Fight tooth and nail for what you know is right for your kids. If you know if it is right to give more of yourself emotionally don’t hold back – do it, your foster kids need to see how much you value them.

That feeling in your gut is pretty trustworthy. You spend more time with these kids than anyone else. If you really feel that something needs to be done, try and work out creative ways with your network of how you can implement it. It might be hard work but I don’t think you will regret it. Lastly, and this is an important one, try and review what goes well and what doesn’t as much. Reflect on what the network is saying and where you stand with it. Maybe there is something for you to learn and maybe there is something for others to learn. It is this stance that will eventually get more teams operating in similar ways and provide a strong place from you to operate from.

James


I had the pleasure of going to the spring Social Pedagogy Development Network conference in Edinburgh recently. In normal fashion the SPDN chose a subject which we all think about but rarely have the guts or ability to start talking about in a professional context. The subject was love and whether we should or could talk about this massive subject in our working lives.

Predictably we started to share ideas, debate and we realised how complex the subject was. Some people shared that they had reciprocated love with the people in their caring context? They shared how that had gone for them and some told about their love for colleagues. What was interesting was the vast array of the meanings for what love meant for different people in a professional context and how hijacked the word had become (maybe even as you read this, your understanding of love has painted a picture in your mind about what it means to you). As we explored it was becoming clear that somehow we all wanted to understand and practice love but the hard part was how do we do that, give language to it and ultimately display it in our roles. We all know that we need love so how can we just ignore it in our work even when can come across as unprofessional or misunderstood?

I was able to share a little bit about love in a fostering context and as I prepped I was aware of how core the message of love was in our house. All the kids are offered it and it is unconditional. Sometimes we have used the word directly and sometimes we have realised in certain contexts that it was not appropriate due to circumstance. There can be a real sense of fear in telling a young person that you love them since it can be misconstrued or misunderstood. Their understanding of love might be very different to yours. Most often however, love is an intent toward another, a hanging on through thick and thin, the reminder to a young person that they are not defined by their behaviour.

Ultimately we reached no conclusion as we only had a day and a half of discussion and debate but the proverbial ball has been set in motion. Once again social pedagogy got us to ask the hard question with the best intention for ourselves and the people we work with in sight. I have no idea if we will ever reach a complete conclusion on how we talk about love but I do know that we need to reflect on it and love each other in our families. We need to give love the space it needs to build and encourage the young people we work and live with. I would encourage you to think about what love means for you. Do you use the word with your young people? What is your social worker’s understanding of it? Would it be appropriate in your situation? Whatever the answers might be, remember that your kids need love so just make sure you find ways of making sure they get it and know it!

James


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