“foster carers are human beings with feelings, not robots”

My name is Hannah and I’m currently a senior supervising social worker for Foster Wales Swansea. I have worked in various fostering teams for the past eight years but I have been a social worker for Children’s Services for 12 years in total. I also have a background working in a specialist school for children with social, emotional and / or behavioural difficulties.

Outside of work, I have 11 years as an aunty, more years with friend’s children, and five years as a mum.

Through work and my personal life, I feel that I’ve gained a fair amount of experience of working with children, particularly those that are vulnerable in society.

“a recent experience has been one of the most invaluable lessons in my life to-date”

However, a recent experience has been one of the most invaluable lessons in my life to-date. I put myself forward to work a 12-hour shift, through the night, in order to support a young person who was living in a residential setting.

When the opportunity came up, I was really excited and looking forward to it. For me, it was work where I could actually spend time with an incredibly brave young person, away from my day-to-day role.

“you will get to experience how foster carers feel”

I spoke to a colleague who had experience in providing this type of support to young people and they said “you will get to experience how foster carers feel.” At the time I thought this was just my colleague being thoughtful, which they are.  

Through the years as a social worker, I have always felt quite confident in supporting children and young people so any apprehension I had was for the young person. She was about to meet two complete strangers who were there to care for her through the night. None of us can appreciate or underestimate how that must have felt for her, or in fact, any child who has experienced this.  

“am I good enough to do this?”

An hour before arriving for my shift, the apprehension then suddenly switched to me. I genuinely felt a fear of ‘Am I good enough to do this?’ I was nervous about getting it wrong, saying the wrong things or just messing up. But I kept reminding myself it would be much worse for the young person.

The night went well and the brave young person we cared for was exactly that…brave. I on the other hand felt the first-hand experience of ‘What do I do now?’ I felt this from the moment I arrived, until the moment they fell to sleep. Every little moment left me assessing on the spot, asking myself:

“will distraction stop this happening?”

“the child is over excited but bedtime routine should start now”

“the paperwork says she should be settled by now”

“i’ve only just settled them and trying to brush their teeth might make things tricky”

“how do I stop this situation getting worse?”

Wow…I couldn’t believe how unprepared I was for the questions I was asking myself. I just had total fear that I would get it wrong for the young person.

lessons learnt

What I have learnt from this very small, one-off shift, is how foster carers must feel when we phone to tell them that the social worker and child are on their way, or when we ask them to follow a safer caring plan, as if it will all go by the book and time. It doesn’t always and I quickly learnt this. Foster carers experience this all the time, whilst making the child feel welcome and comfortable in their own home. My son wasn’t with me, so I didn’t have his needs to consider the way some of our carers do with their own children and / or other children they look after.

I definitely feel that I have a better understanding and can now empathise with this pressured feeling. Foster carers are human beings with feelings… not robots.

“i can now see how carers must feel”

I entered this situation as Hannah, the 12-year experienced social worker and 20 years’ experience of working with children. My feeling of ‘arrghhh’ was real. I sat with it and acknowledged that this feeling is actually ok. I’m not a robot either. My colleague was spot on… I can now see how carers must feel. This young person and caring experience have helped me see things a little clearer. I genuinely believe it has changed my thinking as a supervising social worker and I’m extremely grateful for that.

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