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Presentation on theme: "A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE FOSTER CARER’S"— Presentation transcript:


2 This study looks at the Foster Carer’s perspective of the foster care service
It examined the foster carer’s perception of their role and their participation in the context of the fostering partnership. It focused on the relationship between the foster carer and the foster care services; specifically with the link social worker who is allocated to support the foster carer It investigated the foster carer’s experience of placement breakdowns and how the breakdown procedure was implemented. It examined the foster carer’s viewpoint with regard to issues such as recruitment, assessment, training, support and retention.

3 Research Qualitative research in the form of
semi-structured interviews with 5 foster carers in the Longford Westmeath area. The qualitative methodological approach used to obtain and analyse research allows for interviewees to discuss their views and experiences Interviewees 1 long term carer 2 relative carers 1 day foster carer 1 carer who had experience of long term, relative and day fostering.

4 Introduction The number of children entering into care in Ireland has doubled in the past eighteen years with foster care procuring the mainstay of this cataclysmic increase. Current statistics show that out of the 5,474 children in the care of the Irish State, 3327 children are in foster care, 1,530 children are in relative care, 426 children are in residential care and 191 children are in other care arrangements including secure care (HSE, 2008). Horgan 2002 notes that the primary reason for children coming into care in Ireland is ‘Parents unable to cope’ followed by ‘neglect’ and that around half of the admissions are on a voluntary basis.

5 History of Fostering in Ireland
Traditionally fostering a child was a regular practice in Ireland up until the 17th Century. Under an indigenous system of law dating from the Celtic times, and known as the Brehon Law, it was customary for families to ‘take in’ unwanted, abandoned or orphaned children. For 700 years this native system of law described as ‘the most sacred of the whole social system’ (Ginnel, 1894) created two types of fostering altrum serce (fostering for affection) and for which no renumeration was given. The other type of fostering provided a fee (Shannon, 2005) Anglicised Ireland meant that the Gaelic tradition of fosterage was lost at the end of the eighteenth century. English law was administered throughout the country and ‘The Brehon Law concept of family and tolerance of plurality of ‘family ties’ were gone forever’ (Horgan, 2002).

6 Foster Care Today In the early 1990s A number of demographic and economic changes took place in Ireland which have contributed to the dearth of available foster carers. Ireland experienced a period of substantial economic growth. The increase in the demand for labour meant that more married women were working outside the home. Women were also marrying later and having children later in life. These factors had a detrimental impact on the availability of foster families which have never fully recovered

7 Foster Care in Crisis Research (Working Group on Foster Care, 2001) has shown that concerns have also been raised about the infrastructure and policies around foster care Research in the UK has indicated that hundreds of families are giving up fostering each year “because they felt undervalued and unsupported” (Bebbington and Miles, 1990) Some researchers reflected that inadequate social worker interventions may lessen the success rates of foster care (Baxter, 1989, Palmer, 1990) Others have attributed it to social workers not responding in time to a crisis However, Urqhart (1989) found that foster carers who did not feel that they were adequately supported in times of crisis are more likely to drop from the fostering programme

8 Foster Care in Crisis Triseliotis, Sellick and Short (1995) suggest that the complexity of the relationships and tasks involved in foster care work are often compounded by the ambiguities that surround them. Therefore Fisher, Gibbs, Sinclair & Wilson (2000) conclude that promoting good relationships between social workers and foster carers is an important element in any strategy that aims to retain good foster carers. Howe (1997) elaborates on Fisher et al’s study, outlining two areas for effective social work to succeed in ; personal relationships and the organisation of work. Recent studies by Dore and Alexander (1996) and Ruch (2005) have shown how the competencies and qualities of social workers, both positive and negative, impact on the relationships that develop between them and the service user. Dale (2004) expounds that findings indicate that the quality of the relationship and ‘helping alliance’ between worker and service user is a key determinant of outcomes.

9 Partnership Worldwide there is a paucity of research from the perspective of the foster carer. Thoburn and Philpot (2004) have found that only recently has research begun reviewing changes in policy and practice Partnership is a relatively new phenomenon in the Republic of Ireland compared to its close neighbours. Policies extolling the value of partnership in child care were implemented in the UK following the Cleveland Report (1988). Thus, research studies in the UK were enabled to evaluate practice from both the professional and the caregiver’s viewpoint. Research has indicated that increased authority over decision making is indivisibly linked to empowerment, “Making it possible for people to exercise power and have more control over their lives” (Bereford and Croft, 1993)

10 Partnership In Ireland, in the wake of the Kilkenny Incest Inquiry (1993), a partnership approach was emphasised (Children First 1999 and The Report of the Working Group on Foster Care 2001) However, the philosophy of inclusiveness is taking longer to integrate into the Irish psyche. Recent research by Buckley(2006) indicates that more effort is still required to encourage involvement.

11 The Role of the Foster Carer
Universally, it is recognised that the needs of the children in alternative care are often demanding and complex (Dept of Health and Children, 2001) Foster carers play a unique role. By providing a life chance for children who may have come from extreme adverse circumstances, they improve their foster child’s self esteem and self worth Gilligan (2000) concludes that it is the relationship between the child and a key adult which creates conditions in which the foster child’s emotional, social, cognitive and somatic behaviours are cultivated, encouraged, nurtured and developed. However, Shannon (2005) advises that for many children in long term care, returning to their natural family is an unattainable goal

12 The Role of the Foster Carer
Consequently, Irish foster carers find themselves fostering children who may have emotional and behavioural problems, for longer lengths of time than their counterparts Sellick (2006) study indicate that families who foster children with emotional or challenging behaviour in long term care are strained to their limits and hence risk placement breakdown. Sellick and Thoburn (1997) argue that support to foster carers is crucial, explaining that it maximises the foster carer’s retention, minimises the cost to the foster care services and prevents the breakdown of placements

13 Placement Breakdowns Breakdown may occur in a number of ways. A proposal may be made to reunite the child with his or her biological family; the foster carers themselves may request for a child in their care to be removed, the foster care may abscond and refuse to return to foster care, alternatively the H.S.E may decide that the child’s continued placement with the particular foster carers may not be conducive to his or her welfare. Before a child leaves foster care, mutual participation between the link worker, the natural parents, the foster child and the foster carers should occur. If a child’s move is unplanned it can have damaging effects to both child and foster carer. Shannon (2005) observes that “When moves are unavoidable they should be always being planned to cushion the damaging impact on the child involved. In particular, a precipitous removal is to be avoided”

14 Placement Breakdowns International research has focused on the implications of breakdowns and how it impacts on the foster child Biehal, Clayden, Stein and Wade (1995) and Vinnerljung, Oman, and Gustavsson, (2004) conclude that placement breakdown increases the risk of poor educational outcomes for teenagers. Browne (1998) research from Ireland found that placement breakdown leads to young people living by themselves much earlier in life. Berridge and Cleaver (1987), Wade, Biehal, Clayton and Stein (1998) have shown that breakdown can have a demoralising effect on foster carers and social workers.

15 Findings from the Study
Foster carers appear to view their role as one of support and encouragement The long term carer’s role was viewed as one of high commitment Relative carers felt bound by necessity and love to their foster children. They were also long term carers and had the additional challenge of trepidation for the foster child’s parents In contrast, the day foster carer viewed her role as not being as enmeshed because the child returns home to their natural parents.

16 Findings from the Study
4 out of the 5 foster carers felt that the biggest challenge they face is the constant battle to procure the services needed for their foster children.

17 The overall theme was the feeling of lack of formal support
The overall theme was the feeling of lack of formal support. All five foster carers felt they were not formally supported in their role. Foster carers felt frustration, anger, not listened to, not believed and that they had no voice. The foster carer’s support system (laughs)…I don’t think it exists really (Male Relative Carer)

18 Findings from the Study
Communications via the foster care services were dictatorial rather than participatory

19 All five foster carers felt that they played a non participatory role in the fostering partnership.
“Fostering is like limbo, you know, you don’t know whether you’re here or there but take every day as it comes…But when it comes to a decision to be made about the child, you are a number, you are out, and you are your number of your house that is it (…) you just do what social workers tell you and that’s it.” (Female Carer who has experience of long term, relative and day fostering)

20 Findings from the Study
The overall consensus on participation was one of exclusion.

21 All five foster carers felt excluded from the foster care service decision making process and were of the opinion that decisions were made covertly by the foster care service. “I think it seems to be [( )] something that bumbles along behind closed doors most of the time, very difficult to access, very difficult to get them out into the open.” (Male Relative Carer)

22 Findings from the Study
Foster carers expressed that they were living in fear that the foster child may be taken from them.

23 Four out of the five foster carers live in fear that the foster child may be taken precipitously.
“If I don’t meet the social workers, my link social worker and be nice….. I’m afraid then in one way that they’ll take Joshua. And if they take Joshua, he does n’t know any other family at the moment (…) and this is why I try my best to keep in with the social workers and be nice to them and smile to them” (Female Long term Foster Carer)

24 Findings from the Study
There was a theme of power imbalance in the relationship between the foster carer and the link social worker Foster carers live in fear that the foster child may be removed. As a result they feel intimidated and powerless in the partnership, afraid to give their view to their link worker Foster carers also expressed confusion about the role and autonomy of the link worker 4 out of the 5 foster carers felt that the link worker could not be an independent advocate for the foster carers

25 Four of the foster carers expressed a power imbalance in their relationship with the link worker.
“Really and truly and that’s what … is, a bully. And you have to be so careful in what you say because they twist everything that you say. And if you say something, they would put a different meaning on it…And that has happened on numerous occasions” (Female Long term Foster Carer)

26 Foster carers expressed the most important worker qualities which social workers should have, as being honest, respectful and communicative and to work in partnership “One is respect for the foster parents, because we are dealing with it 24/7. I would love to be able to talk to on a one to one, not talk to a book and not talk about rules and regulations. I know everybody has rules, but… we need to be in communication more …what goes on behind closed doors, we need to be involved a hell of a lot more, a hell of a lot more.” (Female Carer who has experience of long term, relative and day fostering)

27 Findings from the Study
The findings were extremely disconcerting 100% of the interviewees had placement breakdowns 80% had precipitous moves. Results found that the implementation of placement breakdown was executed poorly. Foster carers were not given a opportunity to make representation. No counselling services were made available to any of the 5 foster carers Foster carers also felt huge concern about the damaging impact of placement breakdown on their foster child

28 “the decision was made that the young fellow was moving
“the decision was made that the young fellow was moving. Obviously ……… came with the intention that day of moving that child but had n’t the manners to say it to us properly. And the next thing he was moved. Now the sad thing about that was he went to complete strangers. The little boy in question would have learning difficulties…so how would you expect him to process all that. It was very difficult for us to process it. “ (Female Long term Foster Carer)

29 Foster carers expressed the view that mutual participation between the link worker, the foster child and foster carers should occur before the child leaves the foster home “You just don’t walk in and take the child…like no matter what, it does n’t happen, this is why, I say that everything goes on behind closed doors, cos it will be dealt with for them that’s taking the child, you will be just told to pack a bag, straight away, as quick as the child can be taken.” (Female Carer who has experience of long term, relative and day fostering)

30 Findings from the Study
From the foster carer’s experience, placement breakdown was likened to bereavement.

31 “It’s like a death in the family. That’s the only way to describe it
“It’s like a death in the family. That’s the only way to describe it. You’re lost; you don’t know what’s happened. Like you know, you have someone living in the house with you. 24/7 you look after them and then there gone. It’s the same as a death in the family and it takes the same time to get over it.” (Female Long term Foster Carer)

32 All of the foster carers felt the assessment process was too lengthy, too invasive and did not prepare them for their role. Foster carers felt the whole process needs to be revamped in a less archaic and more humane way. Damn it, there has to be a more humane way to go through eighteen months of …questioning, of cross questioning, of torture I’ll call it. (Male Relative Carer)

33 Findings from the Study
All the Foster carers stated that they would not recommend fostering

34 All four foster carers except the day foster carer said that they would not recommend fostering to anyone “God…I definitely would not recommend anyone to foster. Anyone who has queried from me about fostering, because they see we’re happy and the kids happy and they think it’s all a bed of roses. But I am honest with people and I tell them its one of the most hardest and frustrating and [( )]…ungrateful service that you will ever provide because you are just treated like dirt. I swore and I made a solemn promise to myself and my husband is of the same mind that we would never, ever foster again.”

35 Findings from the Study
Four out of the five foster carer’s stated that they would never foster again This was an unexpected result as it was not a topic on the interview guide. However it became the pinnacle consequence of the study. I believe that the lack of formal support, especially in times of crisis such as placement breakdown, expedites the foster carer’s decision to stop fostering.

36 (Female Relative Carer)
Foster carers expressed that they themselves are the strength of the foster care services. To enable the foster care services to survive, foster carers feels that it needs to be completely revamped and that they need to be more involved. Foster carers feel that they need to have a legitimate voice “Foster parents need to have a voice, they need to be heard. You know we’re the ones that are with those children, 24 hours a day…And I feel that we need to be heard, not to be afraid to speak up. Because there are times that I would love to go public, but I feel like after speaking to other foster carers, we are constantly living in fear, that the child can be taken from you and which they can. At the stroke of a pen, they can just take that child away from you and it seems to be out of spite that the child is not considered you know.” (Female Relative Carer)

37 Recommendations from the Study
As the 100% placement breakdown elicited controversial findings, it is imperative that a national study into the high percentage and impact must be conducted Promoting an effective partnership between link workers, social workers, foster carers and the foster child is therefore an important element in any strategy that aims to retain good foster carers. Formal support is a vital resource in assisting the foster carer to perform their demanding role. Services needed for the foster child should be a priority

38 Recommendations from the Study
An national out of hours social work service should be provided Assessments should be carried out within 16 weeks in accordance with Standard 14a.National Standards (2003)

39 Foster carers wish to be treated with respect and as partners in a process of caring for children.
They are after all, the person who meets the needs of the foster child, improves their life chances and promote their best possible outcomes. Thank you for listening


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