Foster carers like everyone else are caught up in a world changed by Tech. Today there are different types of technology impacting our daily experience. These range from product technology, medical technology and business technology. But it is the communication, educational, information and entertainment technologies that are having particularly profound effects. And our understanding of their long-term consequences – on especially the very young – is far from complete. This is something all parents – including foster carers – need to be constantly aware of. Technology is affecting the way people communicate, learn, and think. It is determining how people interact with each other every day. And this applies to children – including babies. There is no doubt our new Tech world has brought enormous and beneficial advances – particularly in the area of medicine. But as far as other parts of our lives and experiences are concerned, there are cautionary voices. Foster carers, along with everyone else with responsibility for the wellbeing of children and young people, will benefit from some knowledge of the ideas of the clinical psychologist, Catherine Steiner-Adair. This series will look at some of these as they relate to child development and parenting. Foster care provision has to recognise the challenges Tech presents to development, general health and well being, psychological health, resilience, as well as social and emotional intelligence.
From the moment of birth, we are designed to look for and respond to stimulation from the external world. The fact is that this is a very different world from that experienced by previous generations. The degree to which humans can react from birth with their environment can be seen by the speed babies master the touchscreen of an iPad. The level of stimulation is of a different order to anything in the past. The possibility of interaction is also that much greater. And the experience is also quite different. Parents and foster carers just have to think of the difference between reading a book. This kind of sensory experience for a baby is far more static: pictures cannot be made to move and the only sound will be that of the parent reading. A baby’s preference for an iPad can be harmful in different ways. It might, for example, lead to a scaling down or removal altogether of the interaction between parent and child. The effect of touchscreens and other devices on babies and children – including teenagers – is a highly controversial area. Children are hugely responsive to the kinds of stimulation they get from screen-based entertainment. The Tech industries have responded: the market for games and even apps for babies and preschoolers has exploded. The complication is that there can certainly be benefits. Some can be valuable for children with emotional or cognitive issues. But the concern Steiner-Adair has is that in the pre-school year’s overexposure to screens may well be affecting normal development and growth of the brain.
Foster carers; and this applies to all parents, have to see that a balance ends to be struck. Games and apps can be so hard to disengage with that the behaviour they prompt can be seen as addictive. Foster carers and all parents have to resist the understandable temptation to allow children too much screen time. It can be something of a cop-out to think, well, this is just the kind of world we inhabit now. Developmental psychologists have a vital role in reminding us children need to be playing outdoors. This provides the myriad experiences and connections that have made humans what they are: primarily social creatures. Social interaction mediated via a screen is a very different thing to a game of ‘make-believe’ in an environment where there are trees, flowers, streams and, most significantly, other children. This is a world where the imagination has free reign in a way that’s very different to a screen presented virtual world. The answer to the challenges foster carers and parents face lies in Steiner-Adair’s ideas about connection. Imagine a child alone with an app that allows them to create a den. There can be a huge number of possibilities as to how they can make it look, or indeed any setting it may be placed. Not ending there, there will be near-limitless choices about what they can include in it. There will be value in this, but contrast it with making a den in the external world with a group of playmates. Each will have different ideas and sometimes there will be arguments but also agreements. This is about negotiation and is how social learning takes place through a whole series of dynamics that are consciously and unconsciously calibrated in the mind of a child. Such experiences Steiner-Adair sees as making possible “rich sensory, social and emotional interactions”. And this experience also requires children to be physically active: a complete contrast with just being static in front of a screen (foster carers should, in any case, be well versed about the risks to children of an overly sedentary lifestyle).
The experiences of preschool and kindergarten teachers are children who have spent too much time without real-world interactions are more impulsive, less able to negotiate, work or play with their peers, engage actively in learning or calm themselves after experiencing a setback. Steiner-Adair is concerned that this may be the result of early exposure to screen -based electronic entertainment – as she explains:
“The brain patterns itself after the ‘environmental input’ it receives, be it cuddling or computer games. Tech can quickly establish itself as preferred territory in the young developing brain and come to dominate it at the expense of other essential but slower-growing connections that involve the complexities of thought, emotional signalling, and the distinctly human rhythmic back and forth of communication.”
Steiner-Adair has also speculated that the negative effects of Tech can be two-way. This means that parents who are engaged heavily with their smartphones and other devices become distracted and disconnected. Babies are in the habit of minutely observing their parents and will register such distraction. Worse than just this may be the possibility that disconnected parents may undermine “the deepest, most profoundly defining influence in a child’s formation of self.” Having to compete for attention with a parent engaged with Tech could compromise a baby’s healthy development and secure sense of self.
Rainbow are urgently looking for people to train to foster as there is a shortage of applicants. On 31st March 2019, there were some 44,450 fostering households and this represented a 2 per cent rise compared with 31st March 2018. The same period has seen a 3 per cent rise in the numbers of children being placed in foster care. And this is when the lack of foster homes stands is around 8,000.
If you enjoy good health and might be looking for a new career path in life, then fostering might suit you. It has a great deal to offer: foster carers enjoy real job flexibility as well as the chance to work from home. There’s no daily commute or mixing with crowds at what is a worrying time for us all.
You must be committed to providing the best care and emotional support for a vulnerable child or young person. You must also be committed to ongoing training. Our foster carers are all dedicated to the idea of building their knowledge, skills and experience to be the best they can be. Rainbow has been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. We take great pride in this and in the work all our carers do supporting children. This means you can be confident that we will always do our very best for you and your fostering family.
The children we are supporting in London, Birmingham, Manchester and areas of Hampshire are diverse and of all ages. Rainbow need foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups and children with complex needs. We are also getting asked to provide homes for young mothers and their babies – known as parent and child fostering. Whatever path you decide to take be confident you will be making a tremendous difference to children who need stability, security, love and a second chance.
You do not need special skills or qualifications to foster. But you do need to have a spare room. Call us on 0330 311 2845 to find out more about what fostering involves. If you like what you hear, we can start the application process over Skype. It’s very easy – one of our friendly recruitment advisors will provide you with all the help you need.
And in the words of one of our foster carers – now with us for over ten years:
“We never looked back after approaching Rainbow who gave us all the help and guidance in making such a life-changing decision.”
Another of our blogs covering a particular fostering topic:
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Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.