Wednesday 12 October 2016


It's with much intrigue I've watched the debate about the professionalisation/unionisation of Foster carers unfold. Articles, news items and twitter scraps have ensued and such is the nature of the argument I'm having with Queenie it's been moved to the list of topics that we must never speak of again.

I'm intrigued by the binary nature of the conversations, locked into positions that are poles apart. I've listened to adult care leavers passionately describing the impact of issues like respite had on them as  children and young people, then foster carers giving accounts of the systemic challenges they face as they try to care for young people. 

I was rather amused listening to a rather bullish man on the radio who was being assessed as a foster carer denounce any carer who didn’t do it for purely altruistic motivations. He went on to refuse to accept better pay and conditions for FCs. I chastised myself as I thought ‘yeah, come back on the radio a year after you’ve been approved and we’ll see what you say’. I can be quite harsh when I’m in the car alone listening to the radio.

This issue of unionising foster care has been floating around and the one point that has piqued my interest is that of respite.
Basically, listening to the debate their appears to be only two positions, the first being that respite is good for carers and respite is very bad for children.

The other says that foster carers are not parents plus, they often care for the most challenging of children in the most challenging of circumstances. I quote lived and professional experience here.
One that says in the best interests of the child they should have stability and consistency of home and carer, I quote research and best practice here.

Are the two positions ever able to be reconciled? Is it an oversimplification to even state them like this.

I know many foster families and carers that go above and beyond, way beyond and put their own physical and mental health on the line in the care of ‘their’ children. They prioritise the needs of these children again and again and when they ask me for two nights off or a week away to recharge or a special occasion then I will not stand in their way or begrudge them some time away. They go out of their way to ensure the welfare of the children during this break and do everything in their powers to ensure that any potential harm is minimised.

Of course, there are bad examples but from my experience they are the minority.

As a parent I seek respite, of course that’s not what I’d call it. But every year the Good MrsC take at least a night and day away and we do all the stuff to ensure that it’s a positive and enjoyable experience for our children staying at home. In fact we’ve just come home from a holiday for four, MrsC, me and two children. We left four children behind, most of them because they’re young adults and they’re living their lives. But not all of them, some of them just don’t fare well out of routine in different countries with different food etc.

I mean really don’t fare well in an apocalyptic, days of freefall dysregulation, furniture biting kind of way.

So, what do you do? Do we live to the lowest common denominator? Well we don’t.
We reframe, explain, contain and get my big girl and mam to come along and replicate the safe standard routine with a few perks, the child left behind is pampered and enjoys free reign with the remote and being treat like an only child. And we get to play nice like those families we see on the telly, spontaneous stay up late, throw away routine sort of fun.

Is that not selective respite, it’s not what I’d call it but that’s what it is. My children don’t see it as a rejection or slur but as a fact of their lives that sometimes their needs have to be put aside to allow us to have time together. It’s not easy and it’s arranged to the nth degree. We bring in trusted and safe people, we make it a positive.

Fostering isn’t ‘standard’ parenting, the expectations and scrutiny that Foster Carers are put under adds pressure; the unique systems and requirement of fostering add pressure; the impacts of loss, separation and trauma adds pressure. 

The articles I read didn’t seem to acknowledge this and as heartfelt as some of the arguments against respite were they didn’t highlight the high needs that some children have and the high toll that it exacts. Speaking to a good friend this week, a foster carer and Social Worker, he explained the model they use. They build a 'family' around the children they care for, a community of adults and families that welcome their fostered children for babysitting and respite. It sound like family, like community like what almost every parent does because it is a family. There are innovative models of fostering that build these families around children because the cliche is true it takes a village to raise a child and as Helen Oakwater adds 'it takes a city to raise a traumatised child'.


  1. Quite right Al. Parenting traumatised children is much more complex than "normal" parenting. We have to ensure that self care is high on our priority list otherwise we won't last the course. Therapeutic reparenting is multiple marathons, not long walks in the park.
    Thanks for acknowledging the quote: "it takes a village to raise a normal child, a town to raise a challenging child and a city to raise a traumatised child".
    Keep fighting the good fight! We need to challenge some of this austerity madness which will damage us all long term.

  2. Hi, I realised that I'd paraphrased you but was too lazy to go and get the book off the shelf. I loved your book BTW.