Providing foster care in 2016 is becoming increasingly challenging. With the current shortage of foster carers in the system, culturally matched placements are becoming harder to achieve. Because of constant pressure and the frequency of placement breakdowns, a vicious circle exists militating against successful outcomes. What is the answer? Well, the pressure will not be going away anytime soon; this means more preparation and training has to be focused upon carers so that they have a chance of making their cross cultural placement work. Everyone understands that serial placement breakdowns are extremely damaging for a child: very quickly they can become cynical and cease to believe that they will ever be accepted. This mindset creates a pattern of behaviour that can make it impossible for all but the most experienced foster carer to turn around. And we are losing experienced foster carers faster than they can be replaced.
If you are interested in foster care there is no shortage of training on offer. Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA’s) compete to offer the best and most varied courses for their carers – existing and potential. These can equip foster carers with a great deal of detail and theoretical knowledge: ‘Managing challenging behaviour’, ‘Remand Fostering’, ‘Safer Caring’ and ‘Attachment Theory’ are a few of many examples offered. It may be that sometimes the approach is too ‘top down’. At any rate, something is not working because the difficulty of making cross cultural placements stick persists. Perhaps an approach which emphasises identity and culture from the very commencement of a placement is what is needed. It may be that training priorities are simply in the wrong order. Laying on courses and training is exactly what should be happening – we certainly need foster carers who can feel they are being supported to become professionals both in outlook and practice. But we should be thinking about the dynamics of that very first meeting between carer and child. What is it that will make a child/young person feel secure? The answer must lie in them feeling a foster carer has some idea; some connection and understanding of their culture and identity, and by extension what is likely to be important to them. Notions of culture and identity reinforce one another which is what makes paying close attention to them potentially so effective. It may be, and not disparaging all the theory that is out there, that it is the most simple of actions that are required. What is key is that whatever the action, or actions needed, they must happen quickly. If perceived as genuine by a child/young person this can almost instantly create the foundation upon which to build a relationship. It may be as simple as putting more effort into the simple provision of information. From this, the carer can signal that they have understanding and empathy for the world the child inhabits. And even better if this revolves around something personal and a priority for that child. The following example, taken from a piece by Denise Lewis (social worker and writer), illustrates this point of why this particular white foster carer needed more information when introduced to a black child. “So, is it okay if I use cooking oil on her hair and skin?” This was a question addressed to Denise when she was that particular child’s social worker. At the time she was, as she herself said “stunned” by the question. The commitment of the middle aged white foster carer concerned was not in question: what was in evidence was her embarrassment and lack of simple knowledge. How much better had the child arrived to met by a white carer with some knowledge of a subject likely to be important to the child. And its a fair bet that appearance is always going to be important to a child – so a simple and powerful opportunity for a personal connection was there to be grasped. The result of this experience was for Denise to write the book ‘Black Children in Care: Health, Hair and Skin’. The book is filled with positive images of confident and happy youngsters: split into two main topics, hair and skin, then linked all the way through by themes of health and well being. In specific relation to hair, the book provides a fascinating insight into the science and biology of hair, hair care, the history of cornrow as well as a step by guide of how to cornrow. Denise noted that providing information at the very outset of a placement opportunity empowers both the foster carer and the child/young person – “Over the years I practiced as a social worker, I noticed that some white foster carers, who have cross-cultural placements, lack the information and support they need to help their black child flourish while embracing their identity. White foster carers need to be empowered too.” As with all relationships, if they are to become successful; and the same is true for foster care, establishing and building rapport as quickly as possible can make all the difference. Anticipating and managing those crucial initial minutes of that first meeting between child and carer can make all the difference.
At Rainbow Fostering we are playing our part in keeping the momentum going for the Fostering Network’s annual campaign ‘Time to Foster, Time to Care’. Over 9,000 foster families are still needed across the UK. If you have been considering going into foster care, please call us to find out more about what is involved. If you are already involved in foster care, you may know someone who might be interested in following your example: put them in touch with us and you could be helping some very deserving children. And if you are with us already as a carer perhaps recommend a friend who might be interested in foster care as a profession we will pay you £500 as our way of saying thank you (T’s & C’s apply). We are currently looking for carers in the Manchester are http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-in-manchester
Rainbow are moving forward with the idea of block booking a caravan through the summer so all involved in foster care with the agency can look forward to some well deserved ‘time off’…