Diamond in the Rough: Who makes a great foster carer?
6 January 2014 at 10:49 am
For those looking into a carer’s role in the child protection sector there’s much to consider, writes NGO Recruitment consultant Deanne Carroll.
Being a foster carer is probably the most significant role in the child protection sector. It is the hands-on role that is the first level of protection and healing afforded to children in care.
Candidates who apply need to consider it from all angles and think seriously about how it will affect them, their family and their networks.
When developing recruitment campaigns with organisations, it’s important to consider what type of person makes a “good” carer? “Who” do they want to recruit?
What do we expect from carers? What qualities do we expect them to possess?
Quite often, the expectations of carers are to:
Manage a myriad of difficult and challenging behaviours, while trying to follow and comply with a behaviour management plan that most likely does not fit the situation at hand.
Understand the effects of trauma, grief and abuse in anyway it manifests. Advocate enough for children so their rights are heard but compliant enough to keep the status quo.
Show just enough empathy to be seen as caring but not too much for people think they have “become too attached” to the child.
Be patient when waiting extended periods for essential services for children. Be caring and loving but not too “parental”.
Remain professional, compliant and stoic through meetings where they do not always agree with the decisions.
Have excellent social contacts and networks that will be there when they really need to debrief, not the debriefing that occurs with a caseworker they see once a month.
Have a commitment to attending mandatory training that may not be relevant for the child in their care.
Have the ability to meet the social, physical, intellectual, cultural, emotional and social needs of the child. Have the ability to be a “positive role model” which is defined by either the individual caseworker or the organisation.
Develop a positive relationship with the child’s family within the boundaries set by the organisation, and what may ‘suit’ the organisation. Have a home that is always neat, clean and tidy – always.
Realistically the role of foster carers is vast and the expectations are often idealistic.
What many consider to be the “good” carers are not able to manage the children displaying any behaviours at all and most have a preference for children under three years of age.
People experienced in carer recruitment and support often find the “best” carers are a little left of centre.
I would affectionately describe the best carers I have worked with over the years as “rough diamonds”.
Firstly, they would laugh and agree with being called “rough diamonds”. These are people who may not have excellent social graces and are not necessarily eloquent but can cut through the rhetoric spouted by organisations in 2 seconds flat. They wouldn’t win Home of the Year by Vogue Living, but do not freak out if a child puts a hole in a wall.
Their family is often a rag-tag bunch of lovable larrikins, people who welcome children with open arms and make them feel instantly part of something special.
They may have been through challenging times themselves growing up and know exactly what it feels like to be hurt, lost and broken and know what helped them work through those times.
They may become loud or emotional at meetings while advocating for the child because they are passionate and want that child to have everything they need, when they need it.
They may be rude to a caseworker or manager who is rude or disrespects them. They may welcome the child’s family to be part of theirs but will always assure children are kept safe.
Their house is clean but may have piles of washing to be folded, trinkets, achievements and photos from family displayed everywhere and children’s toys scattered from one end to the other. They complete their paperwork, when they get five minutes to themselves. They do their own research on issues that may affect the child in their care.
They make sure the child attends appointments and services but may not have time to attend mandatory training held in an office an hour away because of it.
They are keen for knowledge and learning and are constantly seeking answers but don’t necessarily see attending a four-hour workshop as they best way of achieving this.
They spend the whole reimbursement on children’s activities, toys, clothes, and family holidays. They say “yes” to the children who other carers will not take.
They stick with the children through extremely challenging times because they know in the end, it will be worth it. They can see the inner child behind the angry and sad young person.
They are not carers because they want the world to thank them for it and tell them they are virtuous, they do it because they are good at it and they feel that intrinsic satisfaction from doing the right thing for the children in their care.
Putting too many limitations and stipulations on carers at the beginning of the recruitment process, might miss these rough diamonds.
If carers are treated with the respect they deserve, the rough diamonds will change the foster carer population over time. They will bring in other people with the same “stickability” attitude.
Carers can learn more about how to care for children from trauma and abuse backgrounds than you ever read in any textbook or heard at any university lecture.
Recruiters and managers should really consider the types of children coming through intake and seriously think about the needs of those children and what family and environment will best work for them.
About the Author: Deanne Carroll is a community services professional with over 20 years experience in the Out-of-Home-Care and Disability sectors. Carroll has recruited, assessed, trained and supported foster carers for over a decade. During that time, she also held Senior Project Management roles to improve communication and support to foster carers, develop and enhance the engagement processes, create and instigate learning opportunities for carers, from competency based packages to conferences and has led major recruitment campaigns at National, State and Regional levels. Deanne has also been a foster carer for children with disabilities and adults with a dual diagnosis.