Mark Nelis, Supervising Social Worker with Geoff O'Donnell, Care Visions Fostering

In our different roles within the Foster Care Community, it is vital that we know our responsibilities and work together in order to achieve the best outcomes for children and young people. No role is more important than the other and making sure that we are always child centred, and that young people are involved and informed throughout the decision making processes, is key to building trusting relationships and promoting a sense of belonging.

My journey began when I was working in an administration role in a local authority Social Work department. A break in this work and traveling helped me make an informed decision about the career path I wanted to follow. I started with a place on the HNC Social Care course and during this time I also worked as a Sessional Worker in Residential Childcare. I wanted to further my studies with a BA Honours in Social Work and I was pleased that I was able to continue my sessional work during my studies. When I qualified, I then moved to work with children and families as a Social Worker for a Local Authority. I was there for three years before moving into the specialised field of fostering with Care Visions. Throughout this time, either in an academic environment or in Residential Child Care, the importance of partnership working was highlighted constantly in order to achieve our goals and aims.

In fostering, it’s important to remember that we are all working as part of a Team. The importance of everyone understanding their roles and responsibilities and having a reliable support network is key. Fulfilling our roles is crucial and when this doesn’t happen there can be a detrimental impact on the children we work to support. Good communication is essential to ensure the right people do the right jobs to build confidence in each other knowing that what is needed gets done.

For me, before you get to the point of having full trust in each other, it is important to build relationships. With all my carers and colleagues, we are fortunate to have a very honest transparent relationship. Building that type of relationship helps make sure that the things that might seem small are done and commitments are kept to strengthen trust.

As Social Workers, we have huge responsibilities to the children and young people that come into our working lives. When speaking with children who are care experienced, one of the things that has been common that affects their negative opinion of Social Workers is not seeing them when expected. Changed appointments and postponing visits can lead to loss of trust. Something that might seem small from the outside can have a huge impact on a child, so we need to be constantly mindful of that and keep our commitments to them.

I have always tried to hold on to my roots. Thinking back to being a student and working in Residential, I learned a lot. Reflecting and learning from your experiences helps you to keep in touch with what’s important and what matters to children.

Responsibilities are a level playing field, there shouldn’t be more responsibilities on Foster Carers than other members of the team. You also need to be able to have challenging discussions both ways. Because we have those relationships, we can speak constructively to make something better.

For me to promote team working, my responsibilities are being there to offer practical and emotional support on a day-to-day basis for foster carers. In line with that, building relationships with young people in placements and being a sounding board happy to offer guidance or advice. Carers need to know that there is always someone there to support them. When speaking with children and young people, and in our reviews, I always find the key is active listening. This helps acknowledge feelings, frustrations, and in this process, helping the listener to summarise what the young person has said which shows that they have been listened to. This helps build our relationships and how we work collaboratively.  Active Listening is also a bit part of TCIF (Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Families) Care Visions training and provides different ways to help Carers to overcome challenges we might share.  

The core of what we do should always be the child or young person and their needs. Everyone needs to be able to ask themselves- Are they are protecting the rights of the child and getting it right for the child (GIRFEC)? If the answer is No, then  the question has to be, What are we willing to do as individuals to make sure that is a Yes. We can all make small changes that can mean the world the children and young people we care for.

If you have the skills and personal attributes to work as a team, supporting a child, in the role of a Foster Carer, we would love to hear from you. You can leave some details for us to contact via this link.