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The role of the supervising social worker in foster care

An international literature review

Foster carers play a central role in providing family based care for foster children. Enabling, developing, and supporting foster carers to care for foster children in a way that provides security, stability, love and a strong sense of identity and belonging involves foster carers themselves being professionally supported, both emotionally and practically. This literature review focuses on ‘social work support’, and more particularly the role of the supervising social worker in providing that support and supervision. The discrete role of what we are refer to for the purposes of this literature review as the ‘supervising social worker’ (known by many others terms across the world), to provide supervision and support to foster carers, is a relatively recent development. Alongside the professionalisation of foster care, there have been changing views of the relationships and duties of supervising social workers and the introduction of criteria for supervision and inspection of fostering services. The expectations of the supervising social work role are set out in Standard 21 of the Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards in England (Department for Education, 2011). The supervising social worker acts as the conduit between the fostering household and the fostering service, and is distinct from the role of the foster child’s social worker.

The role of the supervisory social worker is complex since it encompasses both the support and supervisory aspects of work done with the foster carer. For example, if a child protection matter is raised by a foster child’s social worker, then the supervisory nature of the relationship between the foster carer and their supervising social worker becomes more prominent whereas when a foster carer experiences a family bereavement, the support relationship may take over. Foster carers report consistently that this relationship is very important to them and it has been shown to be a factor in the recruitment (in terms of the beliefs of potential carers about what support will be available) and retention of carers (Sebba, 2012). It is therefore of interest that the supervising social worker role has attracted little research or scholarly attention, perhaps because of the lack of well-developed models of supervising social work.