Posted: Tuesday 6th October 2020
Whilst meeting with foster carers and their long term foster child a while ago, we came face to face with a distressing possibility about the care system. These foster carers spoke about having made a decision to end their foster child’s placement. They explained that the child had complex psychological needs and they had never been able to access any help for her despite repeatedly seeking this for over a decade. They explained that the child seemed to be making no progress in their care and they had started to feel that they had nothing valuable to give her anymore. The child herself said ‘I feel like I’m going backwards’.
The carers explained that they had become foster carers twenty years ago, not for the money of which there wasn’t a great amount, nor for the status or thanks of which there wasn’t a great amount, but for the reward of helping children to progress after a rough start in life. The carers commented that when seeing them going through hard times with their foster children, their friends and family asked them repeatedly ‘why do you do it?’. In response, the carers painted a picture: ‘Little children come to our door, their hair is matted, they are hungry and they are wearing dirty clothes. We wash and comb their hair through. We put them in fresh clean clothes, and we fill their tummies. They are happy and they thrive. That’s why we do it.’.
It’s commonly understood, and not least by these particular carers, that children with traumatic early lives can often struggle to simply accept care and thrive. It is more complex than that of course. These children’s early relational trauma experiences often impact upon their sense of themselves as worthy of good care, and their sense of others as trustworthy. With these doubts on board, it can be hard to trust and accept care from adults. Our foster carers in this story used their appreciation of this to sustain themselves through years of fostering. However, they made something very plain to us: If there is no other reason to foster a child than the reward of their progress, the pressure is on that child to thrive from the care offered. In a sense, perhaps having been removed from their own biological parents, children must pay for their own foster parenting in the currency of making progress. And if these children can’t always progress? Is there enough of anything else in the system to keep their foster carers going? And if there isn’t, are we really saying that children who aren’t able to reward their carers are to be the victims of loss and deprivation again?
No-one intends to create such a deprived context for foster families, and many people do their utmost to provide what they can, given their means. But, if deprivation is allowed to become the hallmark of the care system, then how can the right to remove children from their biological families be morally exercised?
Our most vulnerable children deserve way more than continued deprivation. They deserve to experience good parenting freely, not only if they can pay for it with progress. And to relieve children of this outrageous burden, adults need to pick up the tab. Where are the comprehensive, joined up psychological, social and educational services that children looked after and their foster families need? Systematically available, high quality, accessible and responsive. It isn’t too much to ask. It’s the bottom line.
Jen & Jael