This month we spoke with one of our fostering social workers, Mandie, who joined AFA Fostering almost two years ago. Here she shares with us how she came into a fostering career and some advice for people who are thinking of becoming foster parents…
Hi Mandie, thanks for chatting to us today. Let’s start at the beginning… when did you qualify as a social worker?
I qualified in 1998 with a master’s degree in social work from the University of East Anglia, and then I went to work as a child protection social worker for Suffolk children’s services and I carried on doing that until I had my first child in 2001.
After my maternity leave, I went to work in an emergency duty team, doing shifts and weekends, and I did that for the best part of 16 years.
Over that time, I took secondments to child protection teams, and I was an assistant manager in a safeguarding team for a while.
During this time, I also completed training to become an approved mental health professional. I was responsible for arranging and assessing people with mental health issues who were presenting as a possible risk to themselves and or others and perhaps needed immediate psychiatric hospital admission.
Eventually I also became a manager in the emergency duty team. My husband became ill and passed away, so then I had to take a daytime job because I’ve got children and became a manager in a safeguarding team but that didn’t really work out for me because there was no work-life balance.
I became quite disillusioned from working at the local authority where there were a lot of politics, policies, and restrictions around those so then I started working for an independent fostering agency and joined AFA in August 2020.
So, what was it that made you join AFA?
I had a colleague who was doing fostering assessments for AFA and she recommended them to me as being really friendly, supportive, nice people, and she’d heard of a vacancy there and encouraged me to apply.
How many foster families do you support at the moment?
At the moment just seven because I’ve got therapeutic families, which I have fewer cases because of the extra things that we do for them. My foster families are mostly in north Norfolk, Cromer and Sheringham way, and I’ve also got a family in Lowestoft and also Brampton.
What sort of things do your foster families need your support with?
They often like to check things out with me, so they come for advice and support and to talk in general about what’s happened, seeking guidance about what actions to take.
Often, they talk over things like the child’s behaviours, and a lot of the time it’s to offload their frustrations when that’s been exhausting for them, or frustrations with the system that they are in and they need some emotional support.
I have had a few single foster parents and they need a lot of emotional support particularly when they’ve got children with behaviours that are really challenging so they could be ringing me several times a day for a chat about how the kids are presenting.
I tend to ring my foster families a couple of times a week to talk to them not just about their foster kids but also generally about how they are.
Can you tell me about a time when one of your foster parents has made a particular difference to a child?
Well recently one of my foster parents Julie reached out to the singer Ed Sheeran and asked him if he could do a video to her foster daughter and I think that made her feel really special.
I think it’s the little things they do, my carer Kathy would put little notes in her foster children’s lunch boxes when the foster child had just moved in and was struggling with the transition, just to let this little girl know that she was being kept in mind.
One of the things that she always did, that I thought was amazing, was that she always cleaned the shoes for the next day for school, and I just thought that was a very thoughtful thing to do. All my foster families make a real difference every single day to the children they’re looking after.
Can you tell me about a time when you and the team around the child have worked together to make a difference?
Well, I think with “L”, one of the small children we’re looking after it has very much been about trying to make sure she has time with her sister who she had not seen or spoken to for 18 months.
We really facilitated that, and I supported it directly, being the person to take them out together. We’ve really moved them on now and she sees her sister regularly and that’s come about through the hard work of the whole team around the child.
We had to come through a difficult episode when we weren’t in agreement with the care plan and the foster parents, myself, and Darren (our therapeutic lead) have worked very hard with the local authority to put forward our concerns about the care plan and our ideas to overcome them.
It was just commented on last week at the children’s review that we are working together well which is making such a difference not only to “L” but also to her sister who is now able to really enjoy having time together with her sister whereas before it just wasn’t happening.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of a good foster parent?
Patience, and being able to not react, being able to step back, and to just sit with something, obviously not if it’s an immediate safeguarding concern, you know, use me and Darren to explore what the behaviours mean. I think patience and understanding are the main things that foster parents need.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about fostering?
I’d say do your research! Talk to foster parents who’ve done it, think about the pros and cons, and be realistic about the time it will take, because even if you’ve got the will, you’ve also got to have the time. You’ve got to understand that it’s a lifestyle change, not just ‘a job’, and it will affect all your family’s lives. It can’t be you expecting the child to adapt, you must adapt to the child.
Have you enjoyed reading this article? If you could help a child or young person to heal by offering a spare bedroom in a secure and loving home, we provide our foster parents with full training and support and a competitive allowance to care for a child. To find out more and start the assessment process, please call our friendly team on 0333 358 3217 or complete our online form.