Foster carers experience a new dimension in communication

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Foster carers experience a new dimension in communication

Foster care and effective virtual communication

Foster care and virtual meetings

Foster care provision has been changed out of all recognition during the lockdown. Fostering agencies have adapted well in terms of facilitating the continued recruitment of foster carers. Online screening; at least for the initial stages, has proved to be a practical proposition. It may even allow aspects of the application process to be streamlined going forward. But the coronavirus pandemic has had profound consequences for the way social workers are expected to operate. Whilst debate rages as to how and when children will be able to return to their classrooms. The question of managing risk for everyone involved with the care of children is clearly going to remain for some time to come. Social Work England together with the Principal Social Worker Network have now produced guidelines for social workers to follow.  These cover risk assessments, ethics and virtual meetings. New ways for social workers to operate have had to be developed: the rapid spread of the virus has inevitably brought rapid change and uncertainty. The impact has been little short of seismic upon social workers and the foster carers that they support. 

In recent weeks have been faces with unprecedented dilemmas. They have had to balance the importance of adhering to social distancing measures – with the crucial need to reach out to the vulnerable – whilst making sure they protect themselves and their families. A great initiative has been shown by developing new and original ways of working.

Online video home visit and meetings.

Some estimate that around 55% of all communication is nonverbal, while other estimates put the percentage at around 90%. Wherever the true figure lies online communication will completely change the usual dynamics of face to face interaction. It is important that providers of foster care and local authorities who employ social workers – as well as social workers themselves are aware of these altered dynamics. Online communication can create a novel sense of proximity. Working from home can reduce formality and this may have an effect on normal processes and interactions. It comes as no surprise, since young people spend so much time in the online world, that the evidence suggests many of them can feel more at ease participating in digitally mediated communication. Recent observations along with feedback from frontline professionals, CP chairs, IROs and others suggest communication with children – and some parents – has been more open and of improved quality.

Foster an awareness of body language and eye contact.

Understanding the ‘emotional load’ in a conversation between a carer and a foster child – along with the social worker themselves – relies heavily on interpreting body language. This can be much harder in an online setting. It can be difficult to interpret a foster child’s behaviour and its meaning in remote/online conversations. And this is a two-way process. In order for social workers to be most effective at drawing upon their relationship-based and observational skills, some planning is required before setting up an online meeting. Before facilitating any meeting, there are a number of points to be considered. These should be relayed via email to the foster carer or young person. Positioning is important. People need to be looking at the camera on the computer in order to see and be seen. Making sure that a laptop is either angled or raised slightly, and that people are sitting at the right distance away from the screen, can make a crucial difference. Lighting is also a consideration. A good idea is to set up a ‘dry run’ so that a foster carer and/or a foster child is always in the same place for an online meeting and that everything has been pre-planned for everyone to get the most out of it. It’s important that social workers remember communication is always two-way: just as they will interpret different cues, foster children and cares will be scrutinising tone, verbal, non-verbal behavioural and emotional cues. Every participant’s reaction will be impacted by these. They will shape and guide the quality and content of the conversation as well as the professional relationship. The level of comfort, disclosure and trust will also be mediated by such cues and their interpretation.  

All of us – social workers, children, young people and foster carers – will have different experiences as well as confidence levels in relation to technology. It is true that children may be more familiar with apps and social media but this will be a different setting than with their social worker. Children and young people are most familiar with video conversations and are generally relaxed around technology, but context is what counts. The kinds of issues that may be raised will need to be taken account of. Children may feel pressured to behave in a certain way during a video call. It’s possible that they may become angry, excitable, worried or upset  – and this may result in them feeling reluctant to engage. It is important that social workers compile a pre-call checklist before engaging with children and their foster carers. This is because it can be very difficult to salvage the tone and direction of a difficult video call once it is underway. And this is likely to affect subsequent calls. 

A checklist for social workers before arranging a video call.

Make sure there is agreement over the parameters for the call in terms of the best time and approximate length. It is then important to have clarity about the purpose of the video call and what is to be achieved from it. Compiling a bullet point list beforehand is a good idea. As to the video call itself, this could cover a simple check to ensure that the foster family are all okay – and that the child or young person is safe. Do they have enough food or medication, if appropriate? And do they have the support that they feel they need? How are they getting with managing a child’s online schoolwork? Some children and young people are reporting levels of anxiety relating to coronavirus so it is important to make an assessment in relation to this. 

Fostering careers with Rainbow – we’re still here for you through the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause widespread disruption throughout the UK. Many of us continue to self-isolate, work from home, or provide support to others who might be doing so. One thing that you can be certain of is that Rainbow remains open to anyone considering becoming a foster carer. And there couldn’t be a better or more important time to act on that decision. This is because a significant number of the country’s foster carers are ageing.

As a large independent fostering agency (IFA) operating in Hampshire, London, Birmingham and Manchester, our local team members will always be there to help you. They are dedicated professionals with many years of experience relating to fostering. 

Rainbow Fostering was established in 1998 and has been rated ‘Outstanding” in all areas by Ofsted. We are a highly responsive agency well able to adapt to the changing and unprecedented circumstances coronavirus has brought about. We have taken steps to make sure we are able to support anyone wishing to apply to foster immediately. Our expert teams of foster care advisors – working safely and remotely – will take calls and answer any questions about foster care. There is plenty of information on our website – as well guidance we can email. And we can meet you ‘virtually’ via Skype to get your application underway quickly. 

Give us a call today on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line – 0330 311 2845 to discuss starting your foster care career. You can also leave your details with a message and time for us to phone you if you prefer:

At Rainbow Fostering, we encourage people to foster from all walks of life. If you’re married, single, female or male – a homeowner or renting, straight, gay, lesbian trans or bisexual – our socialist recruitment team would like to give you help and guidance. What’s most important of all, is that you have a genuine interest and motivation to strive for the child or young person you are looking after. 

And for the most up-to-date information on the coronavirus pandemic: how to stay safe, save lives and protect the NHS visit – And for an interesting blog, we can recommend –

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