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'I'm so grateful for the commitment foster carers are showing in these difficult times'

To mark Foster Care Fortnight, a social worker shares their experience of working in foster care during lockdown

Social worker writing in diary

Professional Social Work magazine - 13 May, 2020. Share your COVID-19 experiences here.

Monday

I take a phone call first thing in the morning. Over the weekend there has been a serious incident with Rob, one of many young people we have supported into foster care. Over the weekend he became involved in online arguments with associates linked to a drug debt. The arguments escalated and serious threats were made against Rob and his foster carer, with a group of young people attending Rob’s foster home and the police having to be called.

I call Rob’s foster carer; she is worried as he is saying he wants to leave. I spend over an hour on the phone helping the foster carer offload, then phone Rob’s social worker to develop a strategy and ensure Rob is spoken to and supported.

We’ve supported Rob for the last year and despite some serious incidents, we thought we were making real progress. But now I’m worried we’re going backwards. It seems the pressures of this lockdown is too much for many of our teenagers in care. 

They often have strong links with friends and extended family, and many are feeling the pull and pressure to meet them to regain a sense of normality. However, this increases the risk for the foster carers – many in our patch have underlying health conditions, so there is a tension there.

Also, many young people in care have experienced trauma and receive counselling support, but this is either happening virtually – which is not as good – or has been withdrawn.

Tuesday

This morning I participated in a virtual meeting which approves new foster carers. Video conferencing technology is totally new to social workers and everyone is still getting to grips with it. These meetings are so important as you are making decisions about people and their lives, but I felt the richness and subtleties of communication were lost online.

In the afternoon I picked up on the situation with Rob. He has written a letter to his social worker requesting that he move from his foster carer. He is keen to live independently but all of us supporting him know he is not ready for this. 

Wednesday

This morning a student social worker I am supervising tells me her university has taken the decision to pause practice placements. She is understandably stressed and anxious about the impact this might have on the young people and foster carers on her caseload, as well as the uncertainty around her studies and student finances. 

She says she may leave the course to find a job to pay the bills. I get very angry about the situation as there are already large number of vacancies within children’s services nationally, and when we get out of this pandemic the likelihood of more people needing social services is high so we cannot afford less people coming through.

Meanwhile, Rob’s behaviour has got worse and the foster carer says she can’t manage. He has become defiant as he wants to meet friends all the time despite the risk around COVID-19 and is using drugs due to his anxiety. He is getting verbally more aggressive and his relationship with his foster carers is deteriorating. 

I again provide phone support in the afternoon. I feel frustrated because restrictions on visits are making it difficult to offer the level of support needed. I could do so much more in person.

I work late into the night to write-up and complete a fostering assessment I had hoped to complete during the day. I feel guilty as I haven’t spent any real time with my family or helped out properly.

Thursday

I catch up briefly on the phone with colleagues who are working in child protection teams. All home visits are strictly for emergencies only but there is a lack of clarity on visits to places where people have disclosed COVID-19 symptoms. Some social workers have been to houses where symptoms are reported and feel really stressed as there’s a lack of personal protective equipment and they don’t feel safe.

The situation with Rob has come to a head. He has left his foster home and is refusing to return. We are trying to re-house him but all in-house provision is full, or not available as some foster carers and/or their children are displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

The search is widened to private residential settings but these are full so the placement team turn to the very last resort – ringing unregulated places like hostels. At the final hour I manage to persuade a respite carer to provide care for Rob for a few weeks until a new placement can be found. One small positive is that the early signs show Rob gets on well with this carer so hopefully things may settle. 

Friday

I have been working at home from the spare bedroom for several weeks now and the pressure is starting to tell on my own family. I’m present but not present as I’m taking serious phone calls all the time and plans for family time get thrown in the air when the phone rings. It must be strange for my pre-schooler who doesn’t understand the rules around work phone calls and virtual meetings.

But this morning I have taken a few hours out to go for a walk with family and try to support my partner with the children. It feels good to get out, but Rob is not far from my mind.

On our return I check in on him and the respite carer reports that he is doing fine. I suddenly feel grateful for the commitment foster carers are showing during these difficult times, potentially risking their own health to care for some of our most vulnerable children and young people. 

*Names and some details have been changed for confidentiality purposes. For more on Fostering Fortnight see The Fostering Network website here.

Do you have experiences, thoughts or feelings of social work during the COVID-19 pandemic you would like to share with Professional Social Work magazine? Click here to find out how

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.