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Published on: 2016-03-02 10:00:00
Ending a foster placement is never easy and it can be something that comes after a long thought out decision on what’s best for the child and your own family circumstances or as a result of an incident that has occurred that either yourself or the Looked After Child cannot resolve.
I have come very close to ending a placement on two occasions and although neither actually happened, I went through the heart ache and stress on each occasion. The first time I considered ending a placement was out of fear the young person would take his own life and as he was considered a very high risk of self-harm, it was a possibility. The placement was always considered high risk right from the beginning and we went into it with our eyes open, knowing we were having a very vulnerable young person in our care. He came with a vast background file, which doesn’t always happen and instead of reassuring us, it was horrific reading; this young man had been through so much and found it hard coping in the outside world.
We were given support and training and had professionals on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but I was still worried about the time he was alone in his room. Being a teenager, we hoped talking to him about our concerns would help and he gave all the right answers, as if he knew just what responses we were looking for. However, he only really opened up by text message and the texts were very frightening. His thoughts were dark and hopeless and although I didn’t want to add to his rejection, I felt he was better off returning to a psychiatric unit where he could be monitored around the clock, for his own safely. In coming to this decision, we were beaten to it by a serious self-harm incident which took matters out of our hand.
The placement didn’t last long and we had lots of support while he was with us and also after he left and we felt ending his time with us was entirely for his safety. The second occasion I nearly ended a placement was with M, our current young person. M has been with us for a while now and is settled, doing well and exceeding targets at school and at home. Life with M is as peaceful as you can expect with any teenage girl with an addiction to gadgets, social media and her social life. We have occasional dramas with her friends, where she has become too involved or if she needs a shoulder to cry on with boyfriend woes. However, the dramas used to be bigger, dangerous to her own safety or just continuously exhausting. M would come home from school and shout at the top of her voice for hours or until she went hoarse. I would go shopping with her and she would suddenly shout out ‘don’t hurt me any more’ or yell out other unfounded allegations in order to get a reaction from me. She would often lash out or try to intimidate me. The incidents became daily occurrences and as foster carers we were used to children pushing boundaries out of fear of rejection but the relentless nature pushed us to our limits.
As carers, we are a united force and found the best way to deal with M during this period was to tag team ourselves rather than use all our emotional resources up in one go. My husband would spend time with her, then when he was exhausted, I would swap so he could take a break and vice versa. It made for an awkward family life and we only really saw each other as we’d drop into bed. The only times things got really bad were when we both hit emotional rock bottom together and it was at one of these low points when I found myself ready to call time on M. I remember ‘phoning my supervising social worker, Rose, crying that she needed to find somewhere else for her as we were done.
Rose is my rock of support and even though I was in tears and definite about my decision she calmed me down and didn’t try to persuade me out of it. She listened to me and understood. As a teenage specialist, there is nothing about teenagers that Rose hasn’t seen or witnessed and we discussed the cause and fears behind her behaviour. By the end of the conversation, I said I wanted more time to think things through and I’m glad I did. M didn’t immediately change, in fact, things got worse, but we found emotional resilience and after one last dramatic event where she even shocked herself, it was as if a switch went on in her head. She never behaved that way again and whilst she does occasionally have shadows of these intense emotions, usually around contact with family, she is much more emotionally equipped to handle it.
The most common cause for wanting to end a placement is the fear of allegations. It is hard to put the genie back in the bottle when a child makes a false allegation or threatens to do so. Other reasons are aggressive or dangerous behaviour towards foster carers, the family or themselves and repeated absconding. However, the breakdown of a placement is rare, even with children who come to you in difficult circumstances. It is personal to each family situations and if the dynamics don’t work then a decision to end the placement is made, which is never taken lightly.
However, sometimes it’s in the best interests of the child to end the placement. It could be the need to be separated from a sibling, to be the only child in a household or have carers that have specific experience. Before this happens all efforts will be made by yours and the child’s social workers to make the placement work, but if all avenues have been explored, then the placement is officially ended.
The important thing is not to seek or assign blame. A disruption meeting will usually be called once the child has moved and this is not to take anyone to task but to learn valuable lessons and to see what else can be done to help the child for the future. You will be asked to attend along with all the social workers involved, a senior social worker or manager, an independent chair and the child may attend, if appropriate. Other people who may be invited could include the child’s current carers, a school representative, other health care professionals and the child’s parents.
Whenever a child moves on, there is always a period of reflection. When my high risk young person left, I took a deep breath and spent some much needed ‘me time’ recharging my batteries. Hubby and I took a short break and the day we got back, the ‘phone rang… did we have a place for two little girls? We had faith in ourselves as foster carers, had changed children’s lives for the better and we got the room ready for potential new placement.