#FacesofFostering – Introducing Fostering Social Worker, Steph

#FacesofFostering – Introducing Fostering Social Worker, Steph

#FacesofFostering – Introducing Fostering Social Worker, Steph

Posted: 19/07/2021

Steph is a Supervising Social Worker with Caritas Care. Steph is also a former foster carer with Catholic Caring Services, now known as Caritas Care.

Steph understands fostering, she knows the important things for children and foster carers. Her understanding is that she knows how important it is to take time and get things right because she has been there. Ultimately, she wants to make her foster carers the best they can be, just as the charity did for her.

My Fostering Journey with Caritas Care.

I was approved as a foster carer for Caritas Care in December 2000, but, at that time, it was called Catholic Caring Services. I was an approved foster carer with my husband, and we had 3 birth children. We were a fostering family, and almost straight away, after being approved, we had our first placement. We had a young person placed with us, and she stayed with us for 4 years.

We had wanted to foster for a while and had toyed with it; however, we couldn't fit it in. There never seemed to be a suitable time. Then one day, we just said, do you know what? I want to have a go. So we applied, and it took just ten months to become approved.

In addition, when making the decision to foster, we were in the middle of building our home. We lived in a caravan, so we stepped up a gear, got the house finished, and became approved as foster carers.

At that time, I was working part-time as a Teaching Assistant in a local school. It worked well because I could fit looking after my children and our foster child in and around the school holidays. I had an excellent relationship with my Social Worker; she told me that I should think about becoming a Social Worker myself!

I wanted a change, so I went to University and trained to be a Social Worker.

Sadly, my marriage broke up, and I stopped fostering. I had considered training to be a social worker, and I thought to myself, go and train to become a Social Worker as my former Social worker suggested. I worked out my finances, did without for a while, went to University for 3 years, and eventually achieved a BA in Social Work. I was a qualified Social worker; I was 44 years of age, with 3 children; I was so proud of myself.

After I qualified as a Social worker, I had a couple of jobs and then worked for the Local Authority Fostering Team in Cumbria, I loved my job. However, I saw an ad that said Caritas Care was looking for a Social worker. I had to apply for it; I desperately wanted to give them something back after everything they had done for me. I was delighted when I got the job, and I'm still here, 8 years later, and I love the job and the team of people I work with.

Although the end of my marriage was sad, something good came out of it and I did something I never thought I would ever do. The irony is the job I have now at Caritas Care is the same job as the Supervising Social Worker who advised me to do it in the first place! I feel that I am proof that you are never too old to learn!

My children are now older and settled; however, my two older children would consider becoming foster carers in the future. They know how much I love my job and it resonates with them. I hope I have made them proud; well, I know they are very proud of me.

Recruiting new foster carers is part of my job.

I recruit new foster carers, and I have recently held An Audience with one of my foster carers, Gaynor, online. I also work with prospective foster carers when they are in their  Assessment process. I love working with people in assessment because we get to know each other and develop an understanding of each other.

For example, we recently had existing foster carers who transferred over to Caritas Care from their Local Authority. They really appreciated the differences in the support that Caritas Care brought to their foster carers. Caritas Care’s team provide out of hours support and because we are a small team, no matter who picks up the phone when you call, they will know the person at the other end of the phone. This is because everything we do at Caritas Care is a team effort.

The fostering staff team has a very low turnover; I have been with the Caritas Care for 8 years. The most recent team member has been here for 6 years, so many familiar faces bring solid working relationships. It is essential to have consistency with Social workers and managers and make people feel valued and listened to. If there is a problem, we will go out of our way to sort it out, ensuring our foster carers get the best support when they need it most.

I love my job; I love finding out about people and getting to know them. There is nothing more satisfying than watching foster carers blossom. I can see the realisation set in with them as they settle into fostering and begin to think, do you know what, we can do this!

Matching Social workers with foster carers is essential.

I know that it is crucial to match Social workers with foster carers to ensure we build strong relationships together. The structure is different with Caritas Care; the matching process isn't just about matching children with foster carers. Every social worker will be matched with the right foster carers and their families to build solid relationships together. We do things differently because we know the matching has to be right for the children to settle.

Rebecca Hughes, the Fostering Services Manager, will match Caritas Care Social workers with the foster carers who she thinks will gel together.

For instance, when George and Marie transferred over to us on the first night, Rebecca said to me, come on, let's go and call and see George; I think you would be a good match with each other. And she was right because we are!

I have supervised them through their ups and downs, and I give them my unwavering support.

George said he wanted to transfer from an agency because he was tired of having a revolving door of supervising social workers; no way would that happen at Caritas Care. With Caritas Care, your social worker is selected on who we think is the best fit for you to ensure stability. Ultimately, this stability is vital for the children we all care for and support.

I support all my foster carers. Sometimes carers feel a placement won’t work out; for example, when one of my foster carers, Emma, had a teenager placed with her, she was unsure about the placement; however, I encouraged Emma as I thought she had the skills to support this placement.

Emma was struck by me seeing something in her that she hadn't seen in herself. Emma reflected on my comments and agreed to take the teenager who was then placed with her. Although it was hard work, Emma cared for the young person until she returned home. However, when she left, the young person went back to Emma to thank her for caring for her; she really appreciated what Emma had done. This experience helped Emma gain confidence in herself and her fostering role. Now Emma has 2 boys with her on a long-term fostering placement who are happy and settled.

At Caritas Care, we give people time to make their decision about fostering; there is no rush.

I know that people want to become foster carers for many reasons. Emma gave up her job to become a foster carer, and for her, it was never about the money; she just loves children.  George was an approved foster carer with an Independent Fostering Agency; he rang Caritas Care 3 times before leaving his fostering agency.

Whenever George rang and had a question, we would answer, and then George would go away and think it over. Finally, he called and said they had decided to transfer over to Caritas Care; we were delighted.

When you speak to existing foster carers, we always say to them, take your time, and leave it in their hands. Ultimately, it has to be their decision, but each time they ring, we think to ourselves, is this it? Are they going to come? And when they do, it is a great feeling because it has been their decision to be foster carers with Caritas Care, and we are thrilled to have them with us.

Caritas Care Foster Carers making a difference in children's lives.

Another of my foster carers is Gaynor. Gaynor had a young girl, Sarah, placed with her, and Gaynor soon discovered the Sarah couldn't hear correctly. Gaynor arranged for Sarah to have her ears tested, and it turned out that Sarah was deaf, so Gaynor had hearing aids fitted for her. Sarah was 12 at the time and no longer lives with Gaynor. However, she is a much-loved member of Gaynor's family, the Caritas Care family and the local community where she lives.

Sarah is a young woman now, and she lives in my village. I often see her out and about in the community getting her shopping in, and we always speak. I don't tell anyone how and why I know Sarah, she is just Sarah, and she is a highly loved part of our community.

When I do my supervisions with Gaynor, she always keeps me updated on Sarah. In addition, Sarah often goes around for tea at Gaynor's house, and in fact, she only lives a few houses away from Gaynor.

Gaynor always speaks about Sarah with pride. It is clear even though Sarah doesn't live with Gaynor anymore; Sarah is, and always will be; a much-loved member of their family.

Sometimes people don't like what I say as a Social worker…

Being a Social worker isn't easy, and sometimes foster carers don't agree with what I say. If they do not like something I have said, I tell them to think about it for a few days and see if they can see where I am coming from. However, they listen, and most say they get it once they reflect on it for a while.

People are people, and obviously, we all don't agree with each other all of the time. However, if I say something they don't like, I don't say it aggressively. I simply say we can't do it how they may suggest and explain why. We then reflect and leave it and close by saying, let's discuss it later!

Caritas Care is a team effort; we work together and laugh and cry together.

As a team, everything we do is done correctly. However, it is more than professionalism; as a team, we feel it when things happen, and we are all affected. We may celebrate or cry in private; however, we also celebrate and cry together because we think of things together as a team; we feel for each other.

The team behind me gives me strength; they are my safe place. We cry, celebrate, laugh and act daft together and get rid of any negative emotions. But, more importantly, we keep focused together as a team, and we carry on.

Everyone at Caritas Care is a team, and for us to work as a team, we are integral in each other's lives. Not just professionally, but personally too. We choose to socialise together outside of work, and there is a closeness between us all, which means we have everything covered as a team. Our aim is to make our foster carers the best they can be for all of us.

We have also been fundraising for Caritas Care. We did the Preston 10k. I along with Sharon, Rebecca and 2 other social workers took part and together we raised over £800.00. It was exhausting.

However, as a team, we celebrated our achievement together over lunch and cocktails; we are living proof that a team that works together can play together too!

Our team ethos comes right from the very top of Caritas Care. No matter who is leading the team, we can chat with them; there is no them and us.

Rebecca, the Fostering Services Manager, is very open and encourages us to be the best we can be. Susan Swarbrick, our CEO, was actually part of the fostering team when I was a foster carer for Catholic Caring Services. Susan and I have a lot of history together, both personal and professional. For example, Susan knows my children's names, now you don't get that everywhere, do you?

Foster carers are people with their own families too.

At the end of the day, foster carers are people with families of their own and lives that don't belong to fostering and sometimes, we have to give them a bit of slack. We know our foster carers, and we know them well. They are genuine people who, at some point, might be having a hard time. We understand this.

The important thing is that the foster carer is willing to learn.

I know that statistically a lot of our children have been with us for a long time. We have at least 3 children that have been with us for over ten years with the same foster parents. The important things for new foster carers are that they have to be willing to learn, be flexible, and have a solid idea of what they are letting themselves in for.

Foster carers need to like children and understand that becoming a foster carer is not a job. Fostering is not a job; fostering is like a vocation; you can't just do a bit of it. You have to do it all because children rely on you to do it all. So many foster carers become foster carers because they want to give something back; but, whatever the motivation for fostering is, you have to keep child-focused.

Many people think that becoming a foster carer is all about having skills, experience, and qualifications. However, the best foster carers are people who genuinely love children and want to be in it for the long haul. These foster carers are open to learning new skills and continual training.

The best thing for a foster child is to be placed with foster carers who genuinely loves children, as do we.

Matching the children and their foster carers is an integral part of my job.

Matching foster carers and children is so important, and sometimes, it doesn't work because we simply don't like each other. It happens with children; it is normal. I match the right children with the right foster carers; and so the placements are successful.

I use my searching skills carefully to get the right match because it works beautifully when we get it right. We don't send any child to our foster carers without profiling them and checking their suitability; we are not heads on beds agency. We believe that having the right relationship right from the beginning is key to success because it means we have a close and honest relationship together.

I always take the time to speak with my foster carers; it is essential they know I will do this.

Another thing that Caritas Care are good at is we do not have time constraints. If a foster carer wants to talk, I make time to speak with them. We are a voluntary agency, and many people who work with us have voluntarily given their time and as foster carers, often their jobs to be a part of us. The least we can do is give them our time, and time is something I have in abundance for them. I know that if we all keep on talking together, we'll get there.

Taking time helps us build up relationships, like the relationship that Lucy has as a social worker for Byron who featured in our #FacesOfFostering series in June. I have 2 young ladies who are foster children with Caritas Care, and they tell me everything, and that is how it should be.

I love having fun with the children in our activities.

The activities we have with the children and young people are great fun. We get to know each other and have fun together. There is no difference between foster children and birth children; everyone simply gets along as a group of young people.

Pre-Covid, we would have activities maybe 5 or 6 times a year. We've had laser quest, outward bound courses, rollerskating, Alton Towers, and we all work closely with Sharon when we do these activities. We act daft and get stuck in and have fun with the children.

It is good for the children, foster carers and their families to see us socialising and having fun together because it makes us all closer. The birth children love it as they feel they belong to Caritas Care; they are as much a part of the team as anyone else. They are children being children, as it should be.