Have you ever wondered why so many teenage foster placements break down? last week I wondered this’ as I spent the whole week supporting different young people and their carers to prevent this from happening. One in particular I was not able to prevent from breaking down. The Young Person asked to leave her placement for lighting candles to mask cigarette smoke. The final straw for the carer.
Although I suspect in this case the carer was all to pleased to be rid of this Young Person. Because her needs were slightly more than the average teenager. This is the trouble that I am finding more often than not when looking for placements. “low risk” for anything other than residential, who are all to happy to work with Young People with slightly more challenging needs and additional support needed.
The problem is does this work? No……..it does not!
A new company in our area providing semi supported living advertised their two vacancy’s “Only low risk Young People should be considered!” What worries me is that even low risk young people need support, they need guidance and someone to listen. They have friends and family and anyone of these could be used by someone to break the placement down.
For many Young People foster care may never work, as considered in research good practice when working with refugee and asylum seeking children. This is also the same for many young people not just Asylum seekers; but this should not discouraged as a route for others.
It seems that the system wants you to move on at 18 years of age whether you are ready or not. But if you are not ready your options are no better. Often the only options are Foyers, or YMCA’s. Not that I would criticise these placements, just that there is not enough of them or enough funding for support within them.
Also I worry that for some young people the only way they are going to know how to live on their own; is by living in an environment where there is no staff change overs or handover meetings. Where the main carer can offer support and develop skills to encourage independent living. However, this will not always be easy and the carer will need to consider that the young person may be suffering from emotional difficulties and maybe even Post traumatic stress disorder, from either being placed into care or a traumatic event in their life.
This can often mean that the behaviour is looked at first rather than the real support that is needed. Of course this is just not support from the foster carer but from everyone working with the young person. The outcome, greater chance of independent living or some of the skills required to make it work.
But please consider that when fostering Adolescents that every notice and placement move may reinforce their own self belief and self worth. Making it harder for the next placement to work.
Sometimes I am unable to watch programmes that may be interesting, and in the case of Neil Morrissey Care Home Kid this was true. However, thanks to the BBC iplayer I was able to watch the two programmes back to back. And I am glad I did.
Working in Children’s Social Care and having worked in several Children Homes I was touched by his story, and the story of the Young People he spoke with during the show. I could not help but think back about the work I have done, and the impact that this will have had on the Young People I worked with during this time.
I started working with Children in the summer of 1999 post the Children Act 1989 and the start of the LAC process and a more active recording, and more accurately of the Child’s journey through the care system. It was also after the Warner report and the implementation of a safer recruitment process for staff working with vulnerable children (at least a start towards achieving this).
I am aware that no matter how good the staff team, that residential care will ever replace the family, for some Young People. Or even always be a positive experience. But, it should be safe. The staff should be positive about working with Young People, and show this in their commitment to them.
When I started working with vulnerable children my experience was very limited. I could sense from the interview with the Manager, and Head of Care that there was this positive commitment from them. And nearly 12 years on I still speak with NT and TP, who now run their own Children’s homes, and are looking to support Young People with their Independence and leaving care. Their inspiration helped me stay focused and complete my own Social Work training.
I remember my first shift being a Waking Night Shift. My co-worker was an agency member of staff (an Educational Social Worker if I can remember correctly!) The Young People had all settled on time. And as an Adult I was left thinking did I want to do this? I was quickly mindful that I had a choice and for the Young People living there, did not! It was not until the first night where I experienced challenging behaviour, that I found my own passion with working with Young People.
Listening to Young People and allowing them to understand why they were in Care seemed to enable me to develop good relationships with the Young People I worked with. As my experienced gained so did my understanding of living in care with it.
Even with a good understanding, I know this would never make every experience a positive experience for each Young Person. But what I have learned has helped me as a practising Social Worker. It helps in looking at the finer details in the care planning of the Young People I now work with. It helps me with my assessments and exploring deeper than just the behaviour. It also helps me when visiting placements to understand whether it will be the right placement for that Young Person.
It has also made me frustrated that with everything that has been learnt from institutional care, that some homes continue to run in this manner. On a daily basis I receive daily recordings about how the Young People have misbehaved. Reading the reports I wonder do they realise that by engaging the Young People and talking with them, that these behaviours could be reduced.
I guess what is important is to listen to the young person, and by listening I mean actively listen to both the verbal and non verbal communication. And inspire, and promote the Young Persons aspirations and if not possible explain why, and help towards a more achievable goal.
Neil Morrissey’s documentary gave an honest and frank image of being in Care, it took Neil on a brave journey. But the lessons from his Journey are still important today.
Most importantly at 18 the Case is not closed!