Whilst writing the previous post I realised that I have never blogged about another aspect of fostering that was unknown to me before i became a carer, contact.
Contact between fostered children and their birth families is very important. Many fostered children return to their birth families and regular contact between children and their families helps an eventual return to be successful. Contact also provides an opportunity for Social Services to observe interaction between children and their parents, siblings and other extended family. Sometimes these meetings take place under the supervision of Social Workers, their support assistants , and, increasingly the contact is supervised by Foster Carers.
Contact can take place at Social Services Offices where they have special family rooms with toys, equipment and furniture, sometimes schools host contact at the end of the school day. Often contact takes place in the homes of Foster Carers, especially when the fostered child is a young child or a baby. The length and frequency of each contact varies from case to case. Small babies often get lots of contact; contact is increased when the plan is to return a child to it's birth family and is gradually decreased when it is planned to place a child for adoption. Sometimes it takes what seems an age for decisions to be made, plans to be formed and for the court process to ratify or reject that plan. In the meantime the foster carer may well continue to supervise contact. Sometimes birth families graduate quickly to unsupervised contact, where they collect and return the child. Sometimes contact is deemed detrimental to the child and it is decreased.
Supervising lots of contact in your own home is perhaps, the most challenging part of fostering very young children. Usually birth families see the Foster Carer as somehow separate from the 'system' and are not hostile. Often they want to see you as a 'friend' and as someone who can provide them with support for their needs as well as taking care of their children. But you are part of the system and supervision also means filling in reports for the child's Social Worker as well as keeping the child safe. You may feel huge sympathy for the family or, on the other hand, you may feel annoyed at their inability to prioritise their children's needs. Either way your role is to look after the child not to judge, chastise or befriend the adults. It is not an easy role if you confuse this distinction and contact can be difficult for everyone. After all, this is your family home and it is very tying to have to be available on schedule and to have contact with people you otherwise would not associate with. But it is part of the job of fostering.
I try to approach contact by treating other people in the way I think I would want to be treated if I were in their position. If they treat me and my family and home with respect I will do the same for them. They are not in a pleasant position (whatever I may or may not think about why they are there) and as well as providing the best possible care for their child I will try to ensure that their contact will be the best it can be. When both parties look back on the time that the child was with me, I want them to feel (at best)that I made the experience less painful than it might otherwise have been, or (at worst) not make it more painful than it need be. They can see their child in a happy family environment, where they are cared for by people who will treat the child's birth family fairly too. Sometimes families cannot bare to see their child being looked after by someone else, it is too painful. I hope that will never be because I have deliberately made it so.
Baby has contact 5 days a week.
And you thought fostering was just about looking after kids!