When you become a foster carer, you are given training in attachment theory, therapeutic parenting and a vast amount of training over the years on anything from the importance of play to understanding how trauma affects children’s brains. There is training available for autism, FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), mental health concerns, how to support children that self-harm, children who are at risk of CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) and how to spot children at risk of being radicalised, amongst many more specialised training courses. One thing foster carers are generally not trained in is how to work with the team of professionals surrounding the child.
Foster carers come from all walks of life; some come into it after having raised a family or having worked with children and others (like me) used transferable skills and came into it after having a career in a different sector. When a child comes into care, they are the epicentre of a small team committed to achieving the best outcome for the child, whether it’s returning them to family, finding them a forever family if they are to be placed for adoption or ensuring they have the best opportunities in long term foster care. This team includes a professional overseeing their education, others monitoring their health (mental, emotional and physical), a social worker and an Independent social worker overseeing the team. If the child has been identified as needing additional support or requires specialised care such as the care provided by a Nexus 360 carer then the team is bigger with more professionals for example a psychologist, therapist, occupational therapist or specialised nurse.
The professionals have an in-depth knowledge of their speciality but the person that best knows the child is usually the foster carer. We live with the children and know how they react to emotional triggers, how they are likely to behave when they’re tired, frightened or angry and we tend to feel passionate about getting the support and services we’ve identified they need. I’ve often felt like I’m facing a brick wall of silence or opposition when fighting on a child’s behalf and when I come out fighting, regardless if it’s with the right intentions, I don’t get the best results.
When Maddie, who’s fast approaching 18, was at school, it felt like I was spending my life battling on her behalf; fighting a school which I felt placed more emphasis on their league table results than Maddie’s emotional well-being or educational outcome. I was often writing acerbic emails or seething outside the Head of Year’s office. This got me nothing but a reputation! It was after Sabine was placed with us as a 4-day old baby with a potential diagnosis of FASD (now fully diagnosed) that I changed the way I worked with the team around the child.
I’d always been good about the paperwork side of fostering such as recording, making and keeping notes at meetings and I kept important papers stored and filed so I could access them quickly. Too often important papers can be lost between offices or departments or emails accidently deleted. Being organised has proved invaluable to me many times over, especially when I’ve been trying to secure funding for a child.
Becoming an expert in the children in my care has been another major step in achieving the best outcome when working with professionals. When Sabine was diagnosed with FASD I immersed myself in the condition, attended courses, went to a conference attended by world leaders in the field and read everything I could about the condition. Sabine is nearly 3 and at her reviews and medical appointments, I find that I am often the most knowledgeable person in the room. I talk with confidence and can argue effectively about the benefits of a particular drug or treatment. This doesn’t mean I disregard the medical professionals but I have learnt to work with them by becoming an expert about the child in my care.
Working with schools and trying to get the best educational outcome for my fostered children is one of the more challenging areas of working with professionals. My experience with Maddie made me cautious about working with schools. My difficulties have not been with teachers but the education system. Budget constraints and rigid rules can limit what resources are available to your child but it’s important to know what is available in your area and to find alternative ways to support your child in education. I have pushed successfully for counselling in school for Dee, a 5 year old who was struggling with being separated from her older siblings and I believe Maddie’s success in her GCSE results was as a result of outside 1:1 tuition I pushed for despite it being declined on three occasions. If you encounter negative responses to educational support you feel would benefit your child involve the virtual school, have it documented in PEP (Personal Education Plan) meetings and consider looking for alternative or smaller schools which may better meet your child’s needs.
The most important message when working with professionals is that YOU are a professional. You are an integral part of the team surrounding the child and as their foster carer, you are the expert in that child. Trust your instinct and if you feel something is wrong, don’t ignore your gut. If you present your concerns or want to push for a specialist treatment, present your case in a professional way, documenting everything. Foster Carers around the country do an amazing job and I’m proud to be a Professional Foster Carer with Nexus Fostering who respect and value their carers.
* As of April 2019, Nexus Fostering now offer foster carers the opportunity to attend a training course in working with professionals and getting the best outcomes for fostered children.