This month we spoke with one of our fostering social workers, Nikki, who joined AFA Fostering almost five 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 Nikki, let’s start with you telling me a bit about your professional background.
I’ve now been a social worker for 10 years. I applied to do my social work degree part time so that I could work through it, so it took four years while I also worked in a Child in Need Team at a local authority.
When I qualified in October 2012, I got a job as a social worker in a Looked After Children’s Team in the local authority’s Children’s Service. Later, I was promoted to Assistant Team Manager, which I did for about a year.
Although I’d considered becoming an Independent Reviewing Officer, I was approached by AFA to work for them, and so I went for an interview. I really liked their approach and ethos, so I joined their team in 2017. I’ve not looked back since!
I feel that the support we provide is genuinely what best meets the needs of the children and the foster families we work with. We respect and value our foster parents and get alongside them to support them through good and bad times. What we offer is very flexible and we are always creative when trying to achieve the best outcomes.
As I was already working within a Looked After Children’s Team, moving to the other side of this, to AFA Fostering, seemed a natural step. It’s been five years now and I wish I’d come sooner!
Why would you say fostering is important?
That is a good question. For me I can compare what fostering is like to residential care or working with children living with their own families because I have done both of those jobs.
Without wishing to be derogatory to their own families, living in a chaotic home environment that is not consistent is disruptive to a child’s progress and can be traumatic. Having worked in residential care, I can also see how these outcomes have not been great; a large staff group means that there is a lack of consistency for children.
For those children who need it, fostering makes a real difference and has positive outcomes. In my experience, fostering offers a more balanced life.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It is different every day, that’s for sure! At the moment I work with 11 fostering families across Norfolk bordering into Suffolk, and I am working with three families in the Midlands.
Sometimes it can be hard trying to get the right support for children in education, or the right balance with regards the time they spend with their birth family.
A large part of my role is to advocate for their best interests along with the foster parent. Part of my role is to build a relationship with the children I work with and I was recently invited by a child to see her perform in a show. I felt very honoured and privileged to have been asked, and she was amazing!
I try to balance my direct role with children so they see me as less social-worky, by being involved in their lives in more creative ways, such as joining them on a day out, or attending a school picnic.
Sometimes I can be supporting children and foster parents through a court process. Some days I am writing up a foster parent’s annual review, highlighting the great work of our foster parents.
I might be assessing and writing support carer assessments, or supervising my foster parents and seeing children, sometimes playing games with them during my visit.
I have written ‘later life letters’ with foster parents when children have moved on, to ensure they have a clear narrative about their time living with the foster parents. This gives them something to reflect upon in their adulthood.
I can be setting up or attending therapeutic sessions to help the Team Around the Child. This better supports our understanding of their needs, and how to meet them.
What sorts of things do you support your foster families with?
It can be a range of things, anything to do with the child’s care plan, anything around their health, education, or family time.
Recently I’ve been working with a boy aged 14 who attends a specialist school that supports his social and emotional needs. Instability within the wider team of people working with him has unfortunately led to delays around good planning for his next move and as it stands, he is having to move to a mainstream school this September.
From my work with him, I know that this is something he is very anxious about; education’s difficult for him, he finds it hard to learn and so going to the wrong school is going to be detrimental to him.
While I might not usually get involved to such an extent, apart from his foster parent I am the person who knows him the best currently, so I am best placed to provide information to the Special Educational Needs Panel. It is important that the panel have current and accurate details about this young person so that they (hopefully!) will choose a school that will meets his needs.
How have you helped a foster family to overcome a difficult situation?
I worked with a foster parent who had transferred from a local authority fostering service and who had found fostering very difficult at that time.
It was very evident to me that the match between her and the young person she was caring for was not quite right. The significant impact this was having on her and her own family meant that the foster parent had lost her confidence and was seriously considering whether she wanted to continue fostering at all.
Working with her and her family, we were able to consider the kind of young person that would fit best with them. Part of my work was to establish a relationship with a foster parent’s own children. Fostering can have a really positive impact on children who foster but there are also challenges, so building good relationships with them ensures that they are able to talk about any worries they have.
Tell me about a particularly fulfilling or rewarding experience that you’ve had in your role.
A young person I was working with was living with her foster parents on a voluntary basis. They wanted her to go on holiday with them, but her birth parent was refusing to allow this.
Once the local authority had obtained a Care Order, they were able to apply for a passport, however, delays meant that this was not straightforward and, alongside the foster parent, I needed to do lots of chasing. Luckily, 12 hours before they were due to catch their flight, the passport came through and they were all able to go on holiday together.
Had she not been able to go, she would have had to stay with another foster parent which I felt was not in her best interest. What we really try to achieve is a sense of normality for the children and young people that we support and not being able to go on holiday with her foster family would have been the opposite of this.
What would you say are the most important qualities of a good foster parent?
I would say you need to be approachable, respectful, polite, honest, kind, and caring. It is essential for foster parents to be strong advocates for children to ensure they get their needs best met. A good sense of humour is also a must!
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about fostering?
Do your research. You can read about fostering and you can watch the adverts on the telly but speaking to people who are already foster parents will give you a more rounded knowledge of what fostering actually is.
Have you enjoyed reading this story? 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