Almost exactly a year ago on this blog I offered ‘The Folly of Empowering Foster Parents’, and promised to come back to why we use foster parent rather than the widespread and conventional foster carer.
Well...our new Minister has prompted me on that, because here’s what he thinks about how we value the people who do that work, when speaking at the DfE Select Committee last week:
“I like to call them parents because I think what they are actually doing is parenting.... I think what foster parents do is incredible; the ones that I have spoken to see themselves as parents. Let’s not forget that we must always remember...that it is the child who has to stay front and centre in our decision-making, in our minds, what the child feels and says.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone argue against that.
Children who cannot live with their own families, or whose parents cannot perform the parenting task adequately, need new families, and people who can parent them.
‘Carer’ is used for someone who pops into the homes of old or disabled folk, in a uniform or tabard, to help with essential tasks that have become difficult, then they leave after sometimes only a few minutes. Or describes other family members who care for relatives out of love and duty, helping with those same essential tasks, often informally.
As noble and marvellous as those positions are, neither are parenting.
Use of ‘carer’ gained prevalence, ironically perhaps, as part of the professionalisation of fostering - signalling a move away from the informal, taking in waifs and strays, towards the more formal and task focussed. But that’s also a move away from describing what the work is and, actually, a move away from the unique skills and nature of being a professional parent.
‘Fosteringmum’ does a lovely job of describing her experience, worth a read beyond these couple of excerpts:
“No one questions whether my husband as a management consultant and a father can be both professional and parent – nor my father (a civil engineer and a parent and grandparent), nor my brother (a doctor and a father), nor my cousin (a teacher and a mother). Why should it be any different for me as a foster carer? I am both professional and parent – that is who I am, who I choose to be. Who has the right to tell me I am not?
I can tell you that I give just as much attention to my professional development and how I conduct myself in my foster carer role as I did in my previous job – there are standards I must achieve, communications and reports I need to draft clearly and concisely, training I must complete and processes and procedures with which I should comply….
…AND THEN, as a foster mum, I do all those things that I did as a birth parent with my own children – I take my little one to Baby Ballet class and Baby swimming, I hold her close when she has her vaccinations, I potty-train, I teach her to use a knife and fork, recognise colours, count to ten. I sing with her, I take her to the zoo, I stack wooden blocks over and over again so she can delight in pushing them over, I lie on my stomach on the floor and push cars around. I braid her hair and I kiss her tummy when I change her nappy. And yes, I love her.
And I do all these things knowing that one day (possibly soon) I will let her go to her forever family. I do them in the knowledge that I do not have parental responsibility for her. I do them whilst facilitating her contact with her birth family and protecting myself against the possibility of a complaint or allegation….I am me and I am her mum – her FOSTER mum.
I am a professional foster parent.”
By the way, I had the pleasure of chatting recently with CoramBAAF’s consultant on fostering policy - he who is largely responsible for what the Form F looks like.
I asked him why the 2017 version of the form changed the section on ‘Working effectively with others’, to ‘Working with professionals and birth family’. As I explored in ‘The Folly of Empowering Foster Parents’ it seems apparent to me that to say foster parents work with professionals clearly states that foster parents are not professionals….I was confused about why a body claiming to represent foster parents would want to do that. I asked if that was his intention, to which he replied: “Yes, because we think foster parents are too important to be part of that general group of professionals in a child’s life”.
Sounds to me like telling a child they’re ‘special’.
Kids aren’t fooled by that either - they know they’re being fobbed off and patronised.
There is a retort that children themselves do not want just another professional in their life. That’s right - they want, they crave a good parent.
And to be that person - stepping in to do the parenting - means working within a professional framework, being scrutinised, meeting professional expectations, and having additional skills and qualities that most parents do not need.
Do you, whatever your job, think of yourself as too important to be considered professional?
The concept of professional parenting ain’t complicated, if you truly understand and value the work.
Good on yer Nadhim….I think you have it.
Image credit: Pexels
Last modified on Friday, 23 March 2018 16:31