Posts tagged as: Blogs

Life in Lockdown: Day in the Life of a Social Worker

Hello!

My name is Stephanie, and I am a Supervising Social Worker with Compass. I have worked with Compass for almost 2 years and have a good idea of what the role is and how to best manage that alongside being a mum of 2. That was until the lockdown, and I have had to adapt and change in ways I never really wanted to, but now I’ve started to wonder if ‘the before times’ were personally right for me.

My day usually starts around 6am if I’m lucky, because according to my 4-year-old, “the sun’s shining,” means that it’s morning. This normally isn’t a problem because by 8.45am I can switch into being ‘Steph’ and drive away from ‘Mummy’ for a while. Not now, I’m Mummy, I’m a social worker, I’m a professional, I’m an on-call worker, I’m everything, all the time. That’s not to say I’m not grateful, I’m grateful for a lot. I have always loved working for Compass, I like working remotely, I like being able to pick my children up from school when I want to, and I like planning my own diary.

Now, my diary looks a lot like scrambled eggs. My work diary used to start at 9am but now it starts at different times each day, and honestly it never ends! I’m writing this post at 8.30pm because I haven’t found time in the 2 weeks since I volunteered to write it to sit down. Between meetings and calls with foster carers I am making lunch, playing Barbie’s, making slime, reading Biff and Chip and mopping up gallons of water where my children have had ‘fun’, and that was just today.

Also, today I have spoken with 6 of my foster carers, had supervision with 2 and attended a professional meeting, all whilst signing off numerous foster carer daily logs. Being on the phone is now my normal. I supervise 15 carers at the moment, that’s at least 15 welfare calls a week, which doesn’t sound that much until you’ve spent 45 minutes talking about how crazy their day has been and then figuring out what I can do to make it a little easier.

In the last few weeks I have been a part in arranging home tutoring, counselling, experiential educating, emergency sessional work, reading referrals and matching carers with children. I have also arranged for a carer to have someone do her food shopping and picking up a paddling pool as she was having to isolate at home with her husband, their 3 children and 2 foster children as someone in the household had covid-19 symptoms. These are all things which were not part of my everyday normal a few weeks ago, but somehow now feel essential.

Lots of essential things, like physically attending Contact Meetings or Looked After Child Reviews, are no longer essential I enjoy seeing new faces in Skype calls of people who previously could not attend due to the time it took out of their day, such as Teachers and Health Visitors.

The thing I enjoy the most about lockdown, is talking to the children who live with my foster carers. I have seen more children attend meetings about them than I ever have before. Somehow being behind a screen, means it’s less scary to listen to professionals make decisions about your life. Part of being a looked after child, means seeing ‘professionals’, this means their local authority social worker, the foster carer’s social worker (me), the independent reviewing officer, their CAMHS worker, their counsellor, the list really can go on. I have always worked creatively to make visiting children as child friendly and as fun as possible. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but sometimes it means I am playing charades in the living room for 2 hours, being beat at Pictionary or being invited to enjoy a celebratory slice of cake after a child has been granted permanence with their foster carer.

I can’t do all of this at the moment, I can’t quite make that connection in a way that is really meaningful over the phone. I quickly realised that not very many kids wanted to talk to me at all. What do I do to make this different? I didn’t become a social worker to not be social!

Watching my own children on the phone to our family or peers, it was mainly them walking around shoving the phone onto random items, “look at my duck, here’s the washing machine, here is mummy on the toilet” -such fun! They were struggling to make connections with people they love and enjoy spending time with normally. Think Steph, Think.

• “I’ve been playing netball”, “I’d love to watch you play netball!”
• “I have £65 in my piggy bank, I think”, “let’s count your pocket money together.”
• “Have you ever played guess who over the phone?”
• “Do you have the Bloons app on your phone, because I have that too, let’s play.”
• “Going for a walk? Ring me when you’re back, I would love to hear how many rainbows you’ve seen.”

Being in lockdown is hard, being a working mum is hard. Being grateful for working with Compass, always. Being grateful that when I wanted to remain at home because I have asthma, being supported by my manager, and her manager, always. Being grateful that my children, your children, our looked after children are safe, always.

Do I want to go back to how it was before? The more I think about it, maybe not! There have been some positives in all this, I have learned so much about myself and my job over the last few weeks that some things I hope we can include them when we go back to ‘normal’. If we can mix personal connections and holding essential meetings over Skype I’d probably get a lot more done, the children I work with would be seen and spoken to more often- which is why we’re all doing this and foster carers would have more time to just be with the children or enjoy an extra hour on the sofa before the school bell rings. But in all honesty, I just cannot wait until taking my annual leave means, being able to actually leave my house!

Have you thought about a career as a supervising social worker? Take a look at our jobs page to see if we’re hiring in your area.

Interested in reading more fostering blogs? We recently featured in the Top 10 UK Foster Blogs.


Foster Stories: A’s journey

Alison tells us about her and her family’s foster stories.

‘Fostering’ is something I have always had in my mind for as long as I can remember.

As someone who came from a secure and loving background with lots of opportunities of every kind, it has always seemed unfair that not all other children do. The idea of being able to ‘change a life’ seemed a wonderful idea in theory and at different times I have made some enquiries, only to withdraw for many different reasons. The timing finally became right, not just out of a wish to ‘do something good’ however, but equally out of a need to find me a new career path.

I gave up working ‘out of the home’ some years ago when it became clear that two parents working shifts was not a viable option for us and with a house full of three older children, a very elderly blind father, three dogs, a guinea pig and a husband who works shifts and sometimes works away from home, it was very clear that anything new I tried to do would need to fit totally into our existing home life whilst still giving me a chance to learn new things, meet new people and feel like I have a new purpose. Personally, I have felt as my children grow and naturally move physically and emotionally away from me, yet still overall need my presence, that something has become missing from my life.

So I’m not sure if it was the beginning of an ‘empty nest syndrome’, or a lack of mental stimulation, or a wish to ‘make a difference’, or maybe all three, that led me to this place, but it is very safe to say that only 10 months into my fostering career, that any void has been more than filled!

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Our foster son, A, arrived with short notice and with little background information available. I had read and researched for hours the effects of childhood trauma, abuse and attachment disorder. I had the benefit of parenting knowledge from rearing three loud and lively children, the eldest of who has a significant learning disability. I spent time in a previous career where I have seen the very worst of what people can inflict on each other. I thought I was a ‘hard core’ parent and totally prepared.

It turned out of course that I was wrong!

Nothing could have prepared me for the little boy of just four years old who came to live with us. He was broken, vacant and presented worrying behaviours and we have all, including him, worked so very, very hard to find the beautiful, bright, clever and funny boy that now lives with us. We love him dearly and hope that his future home will be with us, into adulthood and beyond. But that is all another story, for, amazing as his transformation has been… another amazing thing has been seeing our three birth children invest into a little boy who now has a place firmly in our family.
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When we first began the fostering assessment process, we tried to talk at length with all our children about what it might mean to have another child in our home, either short or long term and how that might impact on their lives. They were all happy to give it a go, as they always are. We have always tried to make sure they are aware that they lead a relatively privileged life in many ways and in the past they have embraced puppy-walking guide dogs and welcoming a group of lonely elderly people into our home for regular social occasions amongst lots of other fund raising schemes and charitable events.

They understood that now they were doing many things independently I felt that I would like a new focus in addition to them. They listened to us and the fostering assessors. They read the literature provided and we had discussions about different behaviours we might need to expect from any children in their care…. and then they sloped back off to their own worlds of friends, Xboxes, T.V. mobile phones, clubs and all the other teenage ‘stuff’.

Two teen boys playing xbox

Then A arrived and they were shocked. Really shocked. I wasn’t sure if they had listened or understood properly when I had told them just how bad things need to be before a child is actually removed from their home and birth family and that, consequently, no child from those circumstances is going to arrive unscathed and without significant hurdles to overcome. I am not in fact sure if I had really understood myself, despite what I have personally witnessed at work in years gone by. The younger two of our children have grown up surrounded by children with additional needs, including their own brother, and are by no means usually shocked by atypical behaviours, however extreme, but that is not at all the same thing as moving those behaviours into your home.

They all tried in tentative ‘normal’ ways to make connections with A and those were met with challenging behaviours and a defensive front.

Yet still they persevered, day after day, barely reacting to his defensiveness, and still hoping for a tiny break through. A was with me every waking second as he had no school place yet in our area so being a full-time carer of a child with complex needs was difficult for me. I was worn down, both mentally and physically.

I made a call to our supervising social worker saying that despite the fact we had put heart and soul into the placement I was not sure we could continue.

We had some long and thought-provoking discussions with her, and she wisely suggested taking overnight before making a decision. I did not want to give up and I hate not succeeding, but I recognised that we couldn’t continue like this indefinitely and so we came together for a family discussion that evening and at this point my children as a group both surprised and impressed me more than I could ever have expected– and I have been a very proud mother on countless other occasions: All our children were adamant that A should stay!

I just had to ‘get to the summer holidays’, they said …. ’just a couple of weeks away, which wasn’t long’, …. and then ‘they would be home …. and everything would be better because they could help more….and we couldn’t give up because then everything we had invested would in effect be wasted…..or A would move on and someone else would reap the benefits of all our hard work…. …and then, on top of how guilty I would undoubtedly feel, I would still not have a ‘proper job’ and still be bored at home and of course I am the moodiest mother ever, because I need a real job!’ .…and many other arguments besides these.

So I dug a little deeper down than I thought I could and we got through the next couple of weeks. After this, the little ‘miracles’ began to happen for A and for us. A beautiful smile or a little giggle in place of a shriek, an unsolicited reaching out to take a hand at an anxious time, a willingness to relax a little, to take notice of his surroundings and to start to learn. Just tiny indications that change might just be possible after all.
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A had no useful speech when he arrived and so I turned back to Makaton which I had used when our eldest son, who is now aged 17 years and has Down syndrome, was a baby. He hasn’t used it for many, many years, but he remembered far more than I did and he spent ages with me teaching A basic signs for ‘more’, colours, animal sounds and names and all the other basic steps that A had missed. Before moving on to signs for sad, cross and happy to help A express his own emotions and recognise them in others. He was my walking, talking signing reference dictionary. Our son likes things at a slower pace and his gentleness and patience drew A in and they became TV buddies. A, by now feeling safe to sit at his side, watching many children’s classics over and over again, with a constant commentary of signs and words until A started to try to sing along too. We all took a breath when we heard his little voice attempt ‘Circle of Life’ for the first time.

Our daughter of 14 years naturally took a motherly role with A. Tall and feisty she probably took the brunt of A’s behaviours but never once did she take them personally, as sometimes I admit I did. When you try over and over to care for a child and receive nothing but rejection it is unbelievably hard. The girl who seemed to have turned into a grumpy, slouchy, miserable teenager emerged back out as a strong and capable young woman who shrugged off A’s behaviours, took pride in A’s tiny achievements, gave him endless hours of her time, didn’t even mind when he investigated her precious make-up box and took me to Mothercare to buy him a pushchair so that he wouldn’t feel overwhelmed when out in public and need carrying everywhere.

Then to our youngest son of 12 years, sensitive and dramatic in equal measures with a huge heart. He has become A’s ‘spirit buddy.’ He has taught him to laugh at jokes and make his own jokes. He was just entering puberty with all that entails but can slip straight back to being a little boy with A at a moment’s notice, playing in the paddling pool and bouncing on the trampoline. They have laughed and squabbled and got up to mischief in a totally typical way. They have made dens and played in them, sung their hearts out in the back of the car and on the home karaoke machine, spent time digging for worms, worn countless silly hats and been as noisy as two boys can possibly be.

Alison's birth children with A

We had a summer holiday last year: The ‘road trip’ my husband has always pushed for and I have always resisted, but as A had no passport, we definitely weren’t going to the airport! ‘Oh Lord, camping!’, I groaned – ‘like being trapped in a bag of ferrets with nowhere comfortable to sleep’….’All of us in one car?!’ cried our boys…’we’ll have to sit in the back and there won’t be any TV in a tent!’… ‘and Centre Parcs?’ wailed our daughter. ‘You have GOT to be kidding me. You said we might go to Greece this year’…. And so on.

Well, it was by far, and we were all in agreement, absolutely the best family holiday we’ve ever had – and we’ve had some pretty good and much more expensive ones. We laughed, sang, flew kites, blew bubbles and chased them around a field, ate huge ice creams, rode mini trains, swam in the sea, visited animal sanctuaries, dinosaur museums and a pile of other things that we haven’t done in years and every one of us enjoyed them.

I can unequivocally say that we would never have done that holiday and those activities if A hadn’t been with us and, even if by some chance we had tried it without him, we wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Our children have revisited their early childhoods with fresh eyes and fresh enjoyment. In helping him to have his early childhood they have allowed themselves to be children again, free from the angst of keeping up teenage appearances.

That has continued. Who can resist a new tub of Play Doh? Not one of us apparently. We’ve all gone back to colouring-in and we’ve all got some great new dance moves! We dance, sing silly songs and laugh at daft jokes, not just because A does – and we do love to see him laugh – but because we all love it too. They still have their daily teenage arguments and frustrations with us and each other of course, but they also each have an unwavering focus on A which draws us closer together as a family and provides some light relief from the grind of parenting teenagers.

Having A come to live with us has brought many unexpected challenges, but also many unexpected gifts. As a mother, watching in pride as our own children willingly set aside some of their difficult teenage times to embrace A’s challenges and help to shape him into the wonderful boy he is becoming today. Together with watching them allow themselves to sometimes be just children again whilst they teach him to enjoy the things he should always have had the chance to experience, has been both a lovely surprise and brought moments of real joy.

I think fostering must bring different things to different people but, for me, this has been one of the best of many good things.

If you have the space, love and stable home to offer a child, please get in touch with us. Our friendly team of professionals will be happy to take you through any questions you may have, let’s write more foster stories together.


We Are Proud to be Foster Carers

Brian and Ruth Pattimore are experienced foster carers for Compass South. Brian has given us a first hand account of the highs and lows of being a foster carer.

We first started fostering twelve years ago. We can remember the first foster children we had, a sibling placement of a brother and sister, it was the 30th June 2006. We had only been approved by panel two days earlier. We read the referral and decided to say yes to the placement, and began a new and rewarding journey. At first the children were scared and nervous about being in yet another placement. This was their fourth in the last twenty four months.

This was the first sign of the children beginning to trust us, and I will never forget that moment.

Our daughter was getting married in the next couple of weeks, so we took the children shopping for an outfit. We told them they could choose any outfit, and there was a look ­of surprise and confusion on both their faces. We asked if anything was wrong, and they said “no, we’ve just never been allowed to choose our own clothes before”. We told them that this would change from now on. “You are the ones wearing the clothes, so you should feel comfortable with what you wear.” What happened next surprised both of us. They both in turn gave us a big hug and said thank you. This was the first sign of the children beginning to trust us, and I will never forget that moment. The placement continued, not without its highs and lows, more lows than highs to start with. Each day you could see the trust growing, twelve weeks on and the children were now settling into their new schools and beginning to achieve better in their lessons. We rewarded the children with every good report we received from the school, and gave a proportionate consequence for every bad report. These two children are now adults, and refer to Ruth and myself as “our foster mum and dad”. They are still very close friends with one of our daughters, and call her sister. This placement lasted three and a half years.

When we first started fostering, we thought “Can we do this? Are we experienced enough to do the job of caring for a child that is not our own?” I have heard people say over and over again, “I couldn’t do your job”, my answer to this is I don’t see it as a job. I like to think of it as helping a child to develop and grow using the confidence within them.

Over the last twelve years we have had many tears. Tears not just of sad or hard times, but tears of joy when a child has achieved something that others had said they would never achieve. The joy when a child says to you I love you, you’ve made a difference; you never gave up on me. These things don’t happen often, but when they do you feel proud of what you have done for that child.

It just goes to show that if you give a child encouragement and praise, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

There was a time when one Christmas Eve, we heard a knock on the front door. When I answered, there in front of me was the very first child we had fostered. Now a fine young man towering over me, he said he just wanted to give us a Christmas card. We invited him in and had a long chat about how he is doing and where he is living. This fine young man, who people had said would achieve nothing, was now working in an apprenticeship with Sunseeker Boats, one of the most prestigious boat builders in the world. We were so proud to hear this. It just goes to show that if you give a child encouragement and praise, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

Over the years we have also fostered parent and child placements. Two of these placements were able to keep their child; a grandmother of one of these placements still keeps in touch with us.

When you start to foster you become part of a wider company and will meet many new friends at support groups and training. You might only meet up with these new friends occasionally, but you know they are always there for you as you are for them.

I have enjoyed my years of fostering so much that I have become a Carer Ambassador. I can be called upon to give advice or support to other carers, including new carers just starting out on this amazing journey.

Yes of course, fostering can be hard at times, but raising your own children is never easy. The positives of fostering by far outweigh the negatives. It is very rewarding, not in a financial way, but in a way of knowing you have helped a child to do their best. With most foster children, once they have left your care you may never hear from them again, but this does not stop you wondering how they are doing in life now.


Diary Of A Daughter Whose Family Foster

‘He did lots of clapping and got very excited. I love watching him have fun.’


Background

Hi I’m Alicia, I am 9. Our 2nd fostered boy R came to us two months ago. R has special needs and he is nearly four years old although, he is amazingly small for his age.

 
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How Long Does it Take to Become a Foster Carer?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Foster Carer?

Where you were born, every school you went to, what exams you took, what collage, what university, every house you have lived in, your parents, your siblings, your childhood, your children, what jobs you have had, your bank balance, who you owe money to, who your friends are, what pets you have, who comes to your house, what is your religion, your views on diversity and culture. What does all this have to do with fostering? This is you plus more, so be prepared to rediscover yourself and relive memories.

I would like to take you through a quick guide of the assessment to become a foster carer and how it was for my wife and I.

You will normally have about twelve visits from the Form F Assessor over six months. “Six months?” I hear you say, “That’s a long time!” Believe me, that’s just what Ruth and I thought. But the time goes very quickly with all the homework you will have (yes you heard me right, homework) and it has been one of the most incredible journeys Ruth and I have taken.

The first visit was just a formal chat to see if we wanted to become foster carers. This visit lasted 2 hours, just talking about what Ruth and I were expecting from becoming foster carers and what the Compass would be expecting of us. At the end of the meeting we were told that we would be recommended for assessment to become foster carers. First meeting over and our homework had to be completed before the next visit; we were to write down our family trees as far as we could remember. This was hard but interesting at the same time. Having just spent 2 hours talking about our families and where we are from it was still fresh in our minds. Writing your family tree can be quite thought provoking, remembering family that has passed and all the happy memories. We took about one and a half weeks to write our family tree`s – our next visit was made for two weeks’ time.

While waiting for the second visit, Ruth and I talked about how we felt after the first visit. We found this a good idea as we could bounce ideas for the next visit off each other. The next date for the visit came around fast and in this visit we were to find out just how intrusive the assessment was going to be. It will take you right back to your childhood and how things were for you as a child. You will talk about how your parents were and how you get on with your siblings. This was hard at first and I thought “what has my childhood got to do with me as an adult or fostering children?” Then I gave it some thought and yes, it all made sense, for how I was brought up would play a big part in how I would foster.

All your own children will be interviewed during the assessment if they are old enough and asked their opinions on you fostering and how they feel about you looking after other children, their upbringing and how they felt that they were treated. Again this felt hard, this was only the second visit and I was thinking to myself “this is not how I thought it would be”. Having said this I was still enjoying the experience and as fostering was what we wanted to do, whatever it takes. Our next bit of homework was to draw a plan of our home and mark where we would use as fire exits, keeping in mind that a fire downstairs might make the normal exits unusable.

During the assessment you will have to attend a course called Skills to Foster. This course takes place over three days, usually spread across a week or two. Both you and your partner will be required to attend this course. With the assessment you will be asked to supply three references from friends who will be interviewed – you can see now what I mean that the assessment being intrusive, although the assessor makes you feel at ease. For our next bit of homework, Ruth had to write a small essay about herself and I had to do the same. The reason for this is that during the assessment you will be interviewed on your own and talk about what you had written about yourself.

Now I don’t know about you, but I feel uncomfortable talking about myself, let alone writing about myself. The interview on your own will only take about an hour and is normally done with both of you doing your interview in the same appointment. By now if you have continued with the assessment you will have been given a date for your panel. This is when the nerves start to set in, but there is no need to worry, when you get to panel you will only be asked questions about what you have already discussed during the assessment. You will now be coming to the end of your six months!

From now until your panel you will be talking about safety around your home. Be prepared, you may have to make changes to your home, for what we take for granted as being safe will not always be the case for a foster child. These changes are nothing major, just things like having a stair gate or making sure your garden is secure and safe. When all this has been covered the assessment will be over and it is just a waiting game until your panel date arrives.

The Panel
So, your date has arrived and you are going to panel. Please don’t worry as like I have said, you will only be asked questions about what you have talked about during your assessment. Your assessor will be asked to go into the room first – don’t worry, this is normal. Next, you and your assessor will be asked to meet the panel. The next twenty minutes or so are nerve wracking while you wait outside for the panel to have a chat. You will be told if you’re going to be recommended to foster and that you will get a letter. Again, don’t worry this is normal. You won’t be given the decision on the same day; it will take at least one week before you get the letter saying you are now foster carers! I can’t say explain just how proud Ruth and I felt at that moment.

We have now been fostering for 11 years and enjoyed every minute of it. Some say having gone through an assessment once they would never do it again – Ruth and I have been through the assessments three times so it really can’t be that bad! If you change agencies you will have to do the assessment (or part of it) all over again depending on what your new agency is asking for.
I hope you have not been put off by this article, I would say that if you have thought about fostering then go for it – we have never looked back!

Thank you for reading,
Ruth and Brian Pattimore


A Foster Carer’s Diary – 29th February

Monday

After a full weekend of activities including hovercraft ride, walks along some seashores and in the new forest I sit down and reflect.

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Day in the life of a female foster carer – 3rd August

Background
My name is Tabatha and I have been a foster carer for 6 years.

The young people I have been privileged to meet have often been hugely affected by their life experiences and just want to feel safe. It is fascinating to see what they develop into when you assist them to find their voice! The results may not always be what you like, as they normally need to work through a lot of anger.
Since working for the Compass Group, I have provided a long term home for two sets of siblings, have offered respite for various young people and have supported two young people who were not in main stream schooling to return.

We are proud to be foster carers!
 
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Day in the life of a female foster carer 20th July

Background
My name is Tabatha and I have been a foster carer for 6 years.

The young people I have been privileged to meet have often been hugely affected by their life experiences and just want to feel safe. It is fascinating to see what they develop into when you assist them to find their voice! The results may not always be what you like, as they normally need to work through a lot of anger.
Since working for the Compass Group, I have provided a long term home for two sets of siblings, have offered respite for various young people and have supported two young people who were not in main stream schooling to return.

We are proud to be foster carers!
 
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Day in the life of a female foster carer 13th July

Background
My name is Tabatha and I have been a foster carer for 6 years.

The young people I have been privileged to meet have often been hugely affected by their life experiences and just want to feel safe. It is fascinating to see what they develop into when you assist them to find their voice! The results may not always be what you like, as they normally need to work through a lot of anger.
Since working for the Compass Group, I have provided a long term home for two sets of siblings, have offered respite for various young people and have supported two young people who were not in main stream schooling to return.

We are proud to be foster carers!
 
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Day in the life of a female foster carer 6th July

Background
My name is Tabatha and I have been a foster carer for 6 years.

The young people I have been privileged to meet have often been hugely affected by their life experiences and just want to feel safe. It is fascinating to see what they develop into when you assist them to find their voice! The results may not always be what you like, as they normally need to work through a lot of anger.
Since working for the Compass Group, I have provided a long term home for two sets of siblings, have offered respite for various young people and have supported two young people who were not in main stream schooling to return.

We are proud to be foster carers!
 
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