This week I met with Mary and Joe who are experienced Nexus foster carers and more recently have specialised in parent and child placements.
They’ve had other types of placements, and seen children reunited with family or moved on to long-term foster carers and, in all cases, the children have benefited from being in their care. I wanted to talk to Mary and Joe in particular because of their experience in working with parents and children (P&C).
To get to know them more I asked Mary why she became a foster carer? After a pause, she replied that after a lifetime of working in management for big companies, she wanted to do something different. She said that although she enjoyed the work, she found it somewhat unfulfilling and always wanted to do something more and, in her words ‘to make a difference’.
She had considered volunteering abroad but when she found out more about fostering she realised this was for her. It was an area where she knew she could make a difference to both children and parents, and she’s never looked back.
I asked them both what they found most useful about the training they received and in particular what about the P&C training? They outlined that it helped them focus on where their responsibilities lie and how they can best ensure the most positive outcome for both the child and the parent.
It teaches you how to help the parent make responsible decisions and make sure the child is safe and cared for, but also in how to assist that parent with their own lives and achieve their own personal goals.
When I asked them more about some of the P&C placements they have supported in the past, the affection was immediately obvious as they started talking about the first mum and baby that came to live with them.
Tanisha came to Mary and Joe with J, a 5-month-old baby. She was considered a high-risk placement, and they were required to take on full responsibility for J while Tanisha and J lived with them. This is not always the case and Joe stressed to me that each P&C placement is individual and will be assessed differently. Tanisha was very vulnerable when she arrived at their house and needed a lot of guidance both in her personal life as well as in taking care of J.
However, Joe said it was very apparent how much she wanted to learn and there was obvious love for her son. Tanisha was never left alone with J (one of the requirements of the placement) but over the coming months, with guidance from social workers, Mary and Joe gradually allowed Tanisha to increase her one-to-one care of J and have unsupervised time with her son.
The couple helped Tanisha with practical assistance; such as arranging housing benefit, how to budget money, how to food shop, to cook for J, and how to keep him and his room clean. Her confidence increased and her responsibility for her son grew. Joe was very pleased to tell me that after five months Tanisha and J left to set up their own home together.
Tanisha still has support from social workers and Joe and Mary are always there at the end of the phone to help. Joe explained that Tanisha occasionally pops round with J for tea, and sometimes Mary and Tanisha go shopping or out for a coffee.
I asked about the current P&C placement and again Mary stressed that each individual case is different and there are no set rules.
They are currently caring for 5-month-old twins and Mum. Again, Mary said that as foster carers they had full responsibility for the twin girls even though mum was living with them. Mary explained it became noticeable that things weren’t working as well as everybody hoped and mum left after a few weeks. However, neither the social workers or Mary and Joe gave up on mum; she now comes to their house every day for several hours and during that time she cares for the girls under supervision.
Mary and Joe show her how to do everything, from changing a nappy, to bathing the girls, to doing the laundry, preparing their bottles and lots of basic household chores. They are required to assess mum when she’s with the girls and Joe clarified that he has to write a report every day on his observations.
This is not uncommon; all foster carers must report on day-to-day activities, however in this case they not only offer factual reports on how the day went, but they are also required to offer their opinion. They must record fairly and accurately as their recordings may be used in court.
Joe made clear to me that many of the mums, and some dads, that come with their children are often very young and may tbe victims of neglect themselves.
The foster couple clearly feel empathy with the parents and Joe said they just need someone to show them how to do things; after all, we all have to start somewhere.
As I was wrapping things up, Joe told me they were going out later to meet Tanisha for coffee as J wanted to give them a painting he’d done at nursery. I can see the clear fondness they have for the young family that once lived with them. Even though they are no longer their responsibility, there is still a bond.
It does seem that while this type of specialised foster placement can present its own challenges and can often be complex, it can make a real difference in not only children’s lives but also that of the young parent.