Those working with children and young people who are looked after away from home must, at all times, remain clear that the welfare of children and young people is paramount in all decisions that affect them, and of the responsibility to seek and have regard to the views of children and young people in decisions that affect them.
The adults making care arrangements however, can at times be preoccupied with the necessary practicalities, procedures and negotiations and this sometimes results in reduced sensitivity to the child’s experience and feelings.
Arriving in foster care is a frightening experience, especially if the placement has had to be arranged quickly, without planned introductions. When children/ young people’s anxiety is very high due to the move or previous trauma, it may be harder for them to understand what social workers and others involved, have said. It is important that all concerned consider the child’s views and feelings about the move. Foster carers have a key role in offering reassurance in a way and at a pace suited to the individual child’s level of understanding and emotional needs.
- Does my mum/dad/sister/brother/gran/granddad know where I am?
- When can I see them?
- Will this family like me?
- What will they do if I’m ‘bad’?
- Will there be others here?
- Will anyone here hurt me?
- What happens if I wet the bed?
- Can I stay at my own school?
- Will they leave the landing light on?
- If they don’t like me, will I get sent to a children’s home?
- Can I see my friends?
- How long will I be here?
- What time do I have to go to bed?
- What do the carers know about me?
If trust, respect and understanding are to develop between children / young people and the foster carers who look after them, the seeds of these must be sewn at the beginning. Alongside the warmth, individual attention, consistency and routine that are essential for children and young people adapting to change, the following are usually helpful:
- Listening carefully to children and young people and letting them talk about their concerns in their own way and at their own pace.
- Giving time and opportunity for the child to talk and ask questions.
- Telling the truth (in age and stage appropriate manner) and not making promises that might have to be broken.
- Helping the child understand what might happen next.
- Explaining what must be written down and why?
Foster carers who produce an introduction sheet or profile with their photos and simple details about who is in the family have often found this can be a great way of alleviating anxiety in children and young people who are about to be placed.
The foster carer, supervising social worker and child’s social worker should all ensure the child, dependent on age and stage, has information regarding how to contact their social worker, and Who Cares Advocacy Services.