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.
Have you ever wondered why you chose to work in Social Work? the long hours, mountains of paperwork and constant criticism from Family’s, the Media, Managers and just about anyone else who can speak. It’s also not often that you can see the effect of any change that you may have instigated. And more often then not you see family’s come back to your attention. The reality being that these family’s need our help and support beyond what is offered.
Despite this Social Work is still about working with people, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and strangers. Social Work is about bringing down barriers, and empowering the people we work with to engage with Society. Developing with them a plan they know so that they will not need a high level of intervention. Social Work is also about Safeguarding, and protecting the vulnerable and supporting them to remain within their family, or home.
As a Children’s Social Worker it is not about removing Children to place just for adoption just because we can. Unlike what is printed in the Telegraph claiming that Social Workers are Child Snatchers and adoptions are forced. I think it is important to remember that there is a Court process that is followed and that the Judges have to balance the basic principles of the Children Act 1989 and the Welfare of the Child. Plus CAFCASS offer their own independent view.
Often our most challenging cases are our most rewarding. And this week I bumped into a Foster Carer, who was caring for a baby boy I removed 18 months ago. The mother was a drug user unable to break the cycle of her substance misuse. A few months earlier I had removed her two year old daughter, and I can still remember her face as she sobbed realising she could not put her daughters needs before her own need for a hit.
Her family all offered support giving her false hope at the Child Protection conference, but in reality they offered her none. Having spent hours trying to try arrange support within the family I felt frustrated when they walked away. Seeing the rejection in the young mothers face and attitude to the safeguarding process. I then discovered that the mother was pregnant again. A one night stand with her drug dealer. The baby boy was born three months early, and with withdrawal symptoms and required oxygen for the first three months after discharge from hospital.
I can still remember coming into work and answering the phone at 9am to hear the Foster Carer tell me what had happened during the evening. The oxygen alarms had gone off, meaning the baby had stopped breathing and only had minutes to live. A quick 999 call and basic first aid was the only thing keeping the baby boy alive. Showing how serious this case was, and the level of risk involved returning the baby boy home.
Despite this I wanted the Mum to be involved to maintain their relationship and attachment. I called the Mum and made the arrangements for her to get to the hospital. What touched me the most was remembering the Foster Carer telling me that, the young Mum had introduced her to the nurses as her own Mum. Craving the care and emotional support herself that she asked the Foster Carer to support her with this.
I had worked hard for her daughter to return to her care, but the pressure from the dealers had her hooked back onto the drugs completely. The lack of support from her family and the new baby made the escape she received from the drugs more attractive. And the drug rehabilitation programme broke down completely and she disappeared from the area leaving her Daughter and Son behind.
So when I bumped into the Foster Carer this week, I was sad to hear that the Mum had refused contact since. But pleased to see the baby was still alive and reaching its developmental milestones and going to meet his new family. His older sister living with her Dad and half siblings.
So although Social Work is hard and the rewards are small, it is important to remember that there is satisfaction at times. When there is happy endings for the children we work with.
Have you ever had a meeting where you think lip service is just not enough for the young person. Today, I sat in a strategy meeting and thought just that. The young person is left in a strange new (better) foster placement leaving behind the staff she has grown to know and trust. Because her Mother rages a campaign against the Local Authority, for removing her children. Never understanding the damage she has caused to them through neglect and emotional abuse.
As a result she had manipulated her daughter with false hopes and encouraged her to abscond from her placement. In doing so, managed to make a complaint against three of the staff she cared about.
Today we looked at what happened, looked at the procedures and made decisions on outcomes. As everyone around the table nodded and agreed everything was done appropriately. I could not help but think back to the days that I worked in Residential Childcare. Remembering working with young people in crisis. I could not help thinking that the staff had reacted to quickly to an incident that did not need to happen at that point in time.
Its a simple rule, when someone is screaming and shouting and extremely agitated they will not be able to listen to what you are trying to talk to them about. This alleged incident occurred due to the staff on shift reacting to quickly. The result unimaginable to them at the time. However, leaving the young girl feeling not only rejected by her Mum but also by her carers.
When it came to my turn I felt strongly about what had happened. So shared my thoughts, talking through the incident from the child’s view. I shared my own experiences and techniques that might have been more effective both for the staff and also the young person.
I could feel the anger from the Residential home manager as I made my recommendations. I could see the slow nod of agreement from the others around the table and finally my Manager. Who to her credit agreed that she had been having the same thoughts.
It is a shame that for this young person this change in practise is to late, to prevent there placement breaking down. For the others in the home, there is a chance that this will not be repeated.