Background introduction to therapeutic foster care
Therapeutic foster care has developed in response to the changing needs of children coming into care – as well as certain changes in the availability of specialist care. The numbers of children coming into the care system have been rising sharply in recent years. What has become significant, is the kind of children now needing to be ‘looked after’. Figures produced for the national foster care stocktake in March 2017, show that 65% of children have suffered abuse or neglect prior to being taken into care. This is a very large percentage and it means a high proportion of children have complex behavioural and emotional problems. This can result in a wide range of behaviours – many of which can be particularly challenging to deal with. As a result, the pressures placed on foster carers have increased. This has led to more placements breaking down. For a child who may have already suffered emotional turmoil, repeated placement breakdowns are extremely damaging.
The situation has worsened because Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS); the body tasked with managing therapeutic assessments and interventions, has struggled to provide an adequate service. Figures from 2015 revealed roughly two thirds of children and youngsters referred to CAMHS were never treated. This means that specialist help has not been available so foster carers have been left to cope with youngsters – many of whom have been traumatised by past experiences.
All children have the right to develop their talents and reach their potential. Foster carers play a key role in making sure this happens by encouraging the children they care for to strive make a success of their lives. The chances of this happening are severely reduced if foster carers do not have the skills to care for traumatised children. And if support services are overly stretched, or unavailable, the outlook can be very poor for such children. Rainbow, like other service providers, has been determined to respond to this situation. We work to ensure children receive the care they need to recover from trauma. To do this, we provide the training for our foster carers to care therapeutically for the children they look after. This means they acquire the understanding to work as part of a service that may include: child psychotherapists, dyadic developmental psychotherapists, play therapists, educational specialists as well as social workers.
A therapeutic foster carer is part of a team whose goal is to sustain and support a child to recover and begin to make progress. No two children are alike and the level and type of intervention will vary. Care will always be based on a thorough assessment of the individual need of a child. This forms the basis of our Rainbow ‘Turnaround Programme’. This is designed, incorporating specialist planning, to turnaround the negative effects of trauma and developmental delay that can impact on a child.
What makes a therapeutic foster carer?
Interest, passion, imagination and dedication. We strive to harness these qualities and provide training which is stimulating and, at its heart, enables our carers to appreciate the incredible difference they can make in changing a child’s life and prospects. Whatever the difficulties a young person has suffered, a therapeutic carer will have the drive to support and motivate them to succeed. This will require a sustained effort so a child can recover from their experiences – the goal of all foster carers for the children in their care.
A therapeutic foster carer is trained to understand the underlying processes which cause a young person’s behaviour. This enables the carer to become resilient and care – not merely cope. Accepting the reasons why a child may be exhibiting a range of negative behaviours is key to beginning to change them. Imagination and empathy are especially important: some children have been subjected to abuse and violence. They may have known only instability and a sense of personal risk. Many have lived in fear and witnessed chaos and disorder on a daily basis. This can include witnessing sexualised behaviour, drug or alcohol abuse. For some, there may have been a complete absence of emotional care and support. These are experiences that could damage the mental well being of an adult. Children in such situations can feel completely trapped – forced to live each day with a sense of instability and unpredictability – healthy emotional development is an impossibility under such circumstances. A therapeutic foster carer will appreciate just how damaging experiences like these can be. Our specialist training will enable a carer to develop resilience through understanding. It is also important they acquire the ability to protect themselves from the emotional impacts of daily contact with children who have suffered trauma.
What types of behaviour can a therapeutic carer expect?
Challenging behaviour! This description is widely used to encompass a range of different behaviour which can include:
- inability to regulate emotion;
- inability to socialise and develop relationships;
- anxious behaviour often accompanied by irrational phobias;
- bedwetting or soiling (enuresis/encopresis);
- learning difficulties;
- self-harming behaviours;
- low self worth;
- eating disorders;
- age inappropriate behaviour;
- suicidal thoughts;
- failure to manage anger;
- drug and alcohol abuse (older children);
- sexualised behaviour.
The support provided therapeutic foster carers.
Apart from the ‘Skills to Foster’ course that all foster carers complete, we offer additional training in therapeutic parenting. Typically this will cover a range of topics aimed at building the carers expertise and confidence.
To provide effective support it is essential to gain a thorough understanding of a child’s past experiences. This helps a carer to have as much knowledge as possible of what they have undergone. This means a detailed assessment is always made for each child or young person being considered for placement. This will take account of their history, family background and relationships. It will also assess educational progress and social skill/deficiencies. The medical history of a child will be covered and the effect of any previous interventions assessed. In certain cases, screenings will be conducted for anxiety, social communication disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) or Global Developmental Delay (GDD).
Once a child is with a foster carer, review meetings are held regularly and his/her progress is monitored. Decisions will be made regarding the nature and frequency of interventions that may be required. Apart from this, there will always be close support available for the foster carer on a round the clock basis. We ensure the widest range of expertise is on hand to consolidate the gains our foster carers make in ‘turning around’ the lives of the children they look after.
Could I be a therapeutic foster carer?
At Rainbow we are expert at helping applicants and established foster parents to recognize and then build on their own qualities and experiences. A person who is able to think ‘therapeutically’ is, with training, able to adapt the parenting skills they have. They should be willing to discover as much as possible about the child they care for and the experiences they have undergone. This enables a foster carer to appreciate how traumatic experiences can impact on a child’s development. This means they are able to support the child or young person’s psychological, emotional and social development. Understanding the causes of a child’s behavior, is fundamental to being able to help them recover.
If you aspire to play a lead role in putting a vulnerable child’s life back together, then you can be a therapeutic foster carer. And we will support you all the way.
You can apply by calling us on 020 8427 3355 or (Rainbow national line 0330 311 2845). You can also leave your details with us on the website and arrange a call back at a time to suit you)