Summary of foster carer consultation
Held on 24 May 2017
We consulted 20 Foster carers from across the country to understand their views on looked after children’s emotional wellbeing provision: what works well, what is challenging, and what support and training is needed. Groups were divided into three, and facilitated by a member of the SCIE project team.
What works well?
Where CAMHS was working, features included flexibility over meeting times and places of visits (For example, visiting CYP at home); telephone consultations for foster carers, without the need for the CYP to be referred to CAMHS; fast-track access to CAMHS; training for foster carers and ongoing support. The importance of having a range of options/alternatives to CAMHS for CYP was also commented on (e.g. counselling provided by NSPCC and Barnardo’s) which some CYP prefer as it is anonymous, they don’t have to go through GP, feel more in control.
Foster Carers stated they liked having one port of contact (preferably 24/7), especially by social workers who knew them personally and the background of the child in their care. In Kent, Foster Carers and social workers attended training together which solidified relationships.
Children in Care Councils can help in a number of ways through providing peer support; improving mental health through activity based sessions; highlighting problems to foster carers; and involving CYP in running courses for foster carers. Examples of effective practice that had helped foster carers included the Mockingbird Family Model; Foster Carer Association; PACE Model and Compassion Fatigue training; and Sarah Naish Training and an Essex based service which focuses on therapeutic parenting.
What is challenging?
Foster carers wanted
- To be fully informed of who is who in the system
- Their rights to challenge the system when they feel it is not acting in the interests of the young people.
- To be recognised as a professional (foster carers) and including in meetings that involve the child- i.e. an understanding we are looking after the child and their wellbeing and we need to be as involved as professionals in key decision making.
Foster carers also highlighted challenges they and the children and young people they care for can face:
- lack of choice and access of services before hitting crisis- too often CAHMS will only accept child when situation is severe rather than early intervention and support.
- A recognition that CAHMS is suffering under cuts. In one local authority there were two psychologists for the whole of county, or three year waiting lists;
- Minimal training opportunities (location dependent);
- Having more than one professional to coordinate/negotiate with
- Frequent changes in social workers can lead to foster carers feeling undermined and de-skilled as each social worker has different ways of working. This impacts on foster carers resilience and self-esteem and ultimately impacts the stability of the child and placement.
- Education not being equipped with supporting children in care, or understanding what triggers certain behaviours/symptoms of trauma, therefore child is excluded.
What does good support for foster carers look like when considering the different mental health needs of young people in placement?
Foster carers commented on the importance of good support peer networks, mentors and buddies, where they could share experiences with people in similar situations to their own. The Mockingbird model was used as an example with the use of ‘sleepovers’ for children – normalising a ‘night off’ for carers and supporting their need for respite.
Support offered by agencies was effective when it enabled foster carers to speak to someone in a non-judgemental and confidential environment rather than it being escalated or recorded (e.g. a foster care helpline run by foster carers in Leeds). Foster carers liked it when agencies have joint-working protocols, up-to-date assessments on the child in their care and a system that responds when foster carers identify a challenge or need- rather than waiting until the challenge or need escalates and results in a chain of serious consequences that could have been avoided.
What specialist training do foster carers need on mental health and wellbeing?
There was agreement that training should be led by experts by experience, and co-produced so that there is someone on the course that understands what it is like to be fostered. Generally, the group preferred practical training i.e. First Aid and ‘How to respond to challenging behaviour’, to theoretical training i.e. too academic, although some participants welcomed the opportunity to learn about, for example, brain development. It was agreed that training needed to be inclusive.
- Handling challenging behaviour
- Keeping children safe i.e. love and boundaries
- Self-care for carer and child
- Attachment and trauma
- Emotional wellbeing first aid
- Mental health conditions
- Respond and support young people with mental health needs
What support would you find helpful to support your own mental health needs?
A suggestion was made that there needs to be a ‘no guilt’ system in cases where if foster carers think it’s the wrong placement, this isn’t judged (described as ‘no-fault divorce’). With regard to their own and CYP mental health, they need to be able to give it a go where CYP has high level of need, and then say ‘I can’t support this child’.
While some valued peer support groups, others felt that these were not always adequate and also wanted access to individual counselling, where they were more able to discuss matters that were personal and confidential, and to develop a coping strategy.
It was acknowledged that birth children need support too/this whole process impacts them as well.