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Professional foster carers and committed parents: the challenges of providing permanence in long-term foster care Professor Gillian Schofield, Head of.

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Presentation on theme: "Professional foster carers and committed parents: the challenges of providing permanence in long-term foster care Professor Gillian Schofield, Head of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Professional foster carers and committed parents: the challenges of providing permanence in long-term foster care Professor Gillian Schofield, Head of the School of Social Work, Centre for Research on Children and Families, University of East Anglia, UK

2 An example of foster care as permanence: Melanie (25, in placement age15-17)  ‘The first time I met them, David, my foster dad, sat and talked to me as if I was somebody... They were just brilliant, they turned me right round. If it hadn’t have been for them I wouldn’t have passed any exams, I wouldn’t have been able to read and write. Without them I wouldn’t have the life I have now.’

3 Different elements to be thought about – nationally and internationally  Permanence - the meaning of ‘family’, foster ‘parent’, the debate between adoption, long-term foster care and other options  Research on outcomes of long-term foster care  Foster carer /parent roles and relationships  Systems for planning, supporting and monitoring long-term foster placements –experience of children and foster / birth families  Department for Education proposals on long-term foster care

4 Long-term foster care (LTFC) and permanence – international policy differences and debates  USA and Canada – lack of trust in LTFC and a strong preference / drive to achieve adoption  UK – value adoption BUT also developing new policy /practices to establish LTFC more effectively  Scandinavia –Birth family ‘rights’: LTFC is accepted but adoption now being considered in Norway /Finland  France, Italy, Spain – Focus on birth family – kinship care /residential care – limited LTFC in Spain  Australia /New Zealand – Permanent foster care - but now some reconsideration of adoption in spite of ‘stolen generation’ of indigenous children

5 UK Permanence: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Guidance / Regulations 2010  Permanence is the framework of emotional permanence (attachment), physical permanence (stability) and legal permanence (the carer has parental responsibility for the child) which gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment and identity. The objective of planning for permanence is therefore to ensure that children have a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond. Permanence provides an underpinning framework for all social work with children and families. NB Long-term foster care does not provide legal permanence as defined here.

6 Research definitions of permanence (Sinclair 2005)  Objective permanence occurred if children had a placement which would last for their childhood and would provide back-up and, if needed, accommodation after the age of 18.  Subjective permanence occurred if the child felt he or she belonged in the family  Enacted permanence occurred if all concerned behaved as if the child was a family member (e.g. the child was included in family occasions).  Uncontested permanence occurred if the child did not feel a clash of loyalties between foster and birth family.

7 Outcomes of long-term foster care  Schofield et al (2009)– longitudinal study of planned LTFC N= (57%) were stable in their original placement or had moved to independence in a planned way. 10 (19%) were stable and thriving in more successful placements they had moved to or had moved to independence in a planned way. THUS in total 40 (76%) were stable and functioning reasonably well (e.g. in peer networks, in mainstream school, in employment)  Biehal et al (2010): comparison of adoption by unrelated adopters, adoption by foster carers, and LTFC Disruption rates lower for adoption (11% v 28%). BUT Long term fostered children older when placed (4.1yrs v 2.9yrs).( Not all were planned LTFC) No significant differences in emotional and behavioural difficulties, and education between stable long-term fostered and adopted children

8 Age and permanency planning: important messages from UEA research  LAs are - at agency and individual practitioner level - continuing to plan for permanence in foster care through middle childhood and into adolescence.  This plan may be to secure an existing placement or to seek a new placement with permanence in mind  Older children clearly needed this security / many valued it. BUT  How individual children feel about the messages of permanence at different ages needs to be taken into account  Managing reviews, delegated authority, dual family membership and the child’s care identity is a key task in LTFC

9 Foster carers / foster parents need to provide a secure base

10 Availability – helping the child to trust  Stella (carer) and Lisa (age when placed)  Lisa had been rejected by her birth family and then by her adoptive parents- who had kept her sister.  Carer: ‘In those initial times we chatted a lot- we would start tea at 5 o’clock and we would still be sitting talking at 9- just talking and talking and talking. One social worker said ‘It’s like Lisa is in continuous therapy’..... Lisa will still now want to go over something I think we have gone over a million times, but obviously it needs that one more time and it is just a matter of giving your time really...’

11 Sensitivity- helping the child to manage feelings  Carer: ‘Lisa wants to be good all the time. I think it is because she was moved from pillar to post.’  Carer: ‘Lisa came with an awful lot of labels and having worked with children for a lot of years you get a sort of feeling- and I looked at Lisa and thought, this isn’t an eating disorder and this isn't an attachment disorder. But what is behind this? You have to become a detective – but you are looking into a child.’

12 Acceptance – building the child’s self-esteem  Carer: ‘Sometimes Lisa felt the need to play Barbies and Polly Pocket when she first came. She wanted to get out the baby toys and she would come and sit on my knee with her thumb in her mouth and she had loads of help... So now she sees me as a pillar of strength.’  Carer: ‘We started her on karate mainly to build her self- confidence. She has recently taken an interest in ‘Take the Reins’ which is a charity for disabled people who go riding and she is a volunteer. She is a Young Scout Leader now too.’

13 Co-operation-helping the child to feel effective  Carer: ‘I will meet the child half-way, I will allow the child to develop, show the trust. I do have strong boundaries at home and we do have rules. But I think it is more about listening to the child, hearing what the child is saying, because they are all different… When Gemma first came she was a Goth – so it was all dark make up and chains and belts…but now she is an ordinary school girl…very happy, outgoing, willing to help with the other children and doing very well in education. She has turned out really lovely and it is all credit to her really.’

14 Family membership- helping the child to belong  Carer: I think the line between Nadine being a placement and a part of my family is very blurred now. There isn’t ‘she is my foster daughter’, she is my family and I think that is the biggest thing. Other people say- how can they be part of your family when they are not blood relations and they have got families of their own? - but they are.

15 Carer bonding / commitment - importance to children of all ages  Carer’s commitment to this child that will endure  Child is special, unique, treasured, valued  Feelings may occur for a child of any age (including teenage)  Feelings may be there at the beginning or develop over time  Concept could be helpful in assessment of existing placements N.B. Important conceptual links between this study of carer relationships in middle childhood/ adolescence and infant studies in USA by Mary Dozier (University of Delaware).

16 Special feelings – Sacha’s arrival and development in the foster family- age  Carer: ‘Um well I remember it was June and quite a hot day and she came walking down the path with thick tights on. I think she had been determined to put these colourful thick tights on, a little dark haired girl, coming to the door with the social worker, needing protecting, you know, she was lovely.’..  ‘Well she is very confident now actually. I have had people say you would never believe she were in foster care, she is a very confident and sensible child you know and doing very well at school… She goes dancing a lot, she shows us what dance she has learnt. There aren’t many times I don’t get a show every night.’

17 Shared sense of birth - rebirth in the foster family  I cannot imagine a time before Kelly and Kelly cannot imagine a time when she wasn’t here. She says her life didn’t begin until she was nine. ( Carer for Kelly, 14, placed at 9)  I wish that this was my real family, yes that is what is annoying about being in foster care, it is not really my birth family....Yes it is just that they are more like a family to me. It is just I wish I had been born into it. (Lauren 17, placed at 14)  Because of my age and my parents’ marriage and everything it fits in almost exactly that I am almost their actual daughter. My dad and I have a little joke every now and again, I say ‘Dad do you feel glad that you skipped the pregnancy part?’ and he goes ‘Oh yes I am glad I skipped that bit!’ Rosie (14, placed at 11)

18 Professional foster carer and committed parent: work-family balance  Family /work role and boundary issues - usually in relation to parents who work outside of the home.  Work and family are considered as two different spheres of activity, with different role identities and cultural meanings.  For foster carers, their family is their work and their work is their family –roles are not so clearly separated and boundaries are not so clearly defined.  How do they manage different and potentially contradictory role identities?

19 Role identity in permanent placements- carers and /or parents?  Permanent foster placements can be successful where carers have different primary role identities Primary identity as foster carers, but also accept the role of parent Primary identity as parents, but also accept the role of carer  Problems can occur where Foster carers who identify exclusively as carers but do not take on a parenting role / commitment Foster carers who identify exclusively as parents but do not accept carer role/responsibilities

20 Professional carers who take on the parenting role  Carers who identify themselves positively as foster carers e.g. enjoy their professional role /skills and their partnership with social workers value their training opportunities, work positively with the child, including regarding being in care support birth family as well as foster family identity  AND take on the role of parents fully committed to the child as a family member welcoming the prospect of the child being part of the family into adulthood

21 Julie, Patrick and their foster child, Marie (17)  Short term carers when their own children had grown up - more than 80 placements.  Ran the foster carer support group and operated telephone help line  Marie came for respite four years ago, but asked to stay  After 4 years she continues to thrive – she is a member of the Children in Care Council and helps to train foster carers NB A good fit / match

22 Meaning of ‘permanence’ to Julie- as a carer and a parent  ‘In my mind permanence is a word that means a lot. It means that Marie is never going to leave, not when she’s 18,19, 20 or whatever. If she goes to university, not when she’s 25. She’s always going to be part of our family. I am sure when she’s 36 and has got her own children, she will be bringing them to us, I will probably be looking after them. We are always going to be her Mama and Papa.’

23 Being a professional foster carer- and a mother ‘I think there are too many people at meetings. I am solely there to be her mother…you have probably got, I don’t know, fifteen or sixteen different workers involved in one person. Marie doesn’t need me being a professional and talking jargon just because everyone else does. I am just there to be Mum, that is what I am trying to do, first and foremost, I am her Mum.’

24 Parents who embrace /accept the role of carer  Those who identify themselves primarily as parents e.g. motivated to build a family emphasise normalising the child’s experience /acting as any parent would Use their own family and friends as support systems AND  Embrace /accept the role of carer e.g. Understand their role as carers on behalf of local authority Like to know the LAC system /support is there for them and the child

25 Sandra, Pete and their foster child, Rosie (14)  Sandra and Pete had decided not to have children of their own but knew a foster family and felt they had something to offer long-term.  Approved for short-term, but were approached to take Rosie (then 11) as a first and long-term placement.  Rosie had been in care since 2 and had multiple placements, including a three year adoption that broke down. She desperately needed and wanted parents, but had behaviour problems and no concept of family relationships that could work for her.  Rosie has thrived in the family- and has a good relationship with her social worker.  The carers would consider adopting later, if this is what Rosie wanted. NB A good fit / match

26 Sandra’s account of Rosie’s care identity  ‘Rosie doesn’t really want to get involved in a lot of the activities that social services provide in the summer holidays, because they are all just kids in care and if you don’t want to be reminded that you are in care, the last thing you want to do is spend two or three days surrounded by all the children that are in the same boat with you, so I quite understand that. We made a conscious decision that we were not going to ask for respite, because she needed to become part of our family. So she gets most of her support from things like Girls Brigade.’

27 Risks of being exclusively ‘carers’ or exclusively ‘parents’?  Carers who may accept a child as a long-term placement with a permanence plan BUT do not take on the parenting / permanence role e.g. may not fully include child in family, may anticipate without question the child moving on and out of the family at 18 or before.  Carers who see themselves as parents BUT reject carer identity, do not accept the need for training, do not help the child manage care identity, may form alliance with child against ‘the system’.

28 Professional foster carer and committed parent  Where carer and parent roles could be accepted and integrated, each role enriches the other  Thoughtful, sensitive caregivers were more likely to be able to integrate roles.

29 Permanence in long-term foster care  The development of a form of foster care that more nearly approaches a ‘family for life’, which is not seen as ‘second best’ and in which carers can act as parents. (Sinclair 2005:123)  DfE consultation on long-term foster care has this aim – e.g. legal definition, formal procedures, delegated authority, ‘proportionate’/‘appropriate’ visiting and reviewing.

30 Long-term foster children’s advice  To carers ‘Foster carers should give children their love and care, do the best you can, be proud of them, love them for who they are, even though they are not yours - just love them for who they are.’(Girl, age 14)  To foster children ‘Think about it as you are in a better place, you have still got the other end of the phone, and you are with people that will care for you and love you and everything is going to be alright.’ (Girl, aged 12)


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