Can Foster Carers in the UK in 2018 reasonably call themselves professionals? Or is the idea of professionalism incompatible or even inappropriate in the context of caring for a vulnerable child in a foster home? This debate has featured prominently in the responses to both the Education Select Committee report on Fostering and the Narey/Owens Fostering Stocktake – publications which came to wildly different conclusions.
So let me share what I think – as a mother, as someone who has had a twenty year “professional” career before I came to fostering and as a foster mum.
No one questions whether my husband as a management consultant and a father can be both professional and parent – nor my father (a civil engineer and a parent and grandparent), nor my brother (a doctor and a father), nor my cousin (a teacher and a mother). Why should it be any different for me as a foster carer? I am both professional and parent – that is who I am, who I choose to be. Who has the right to tell me I am not?
I can tell you that I give just as much attention to my professional development and how I conduct myself in my foster carer role as I did in my previous job – there are standards I must achieve, communications and reports I need to draft clearly and concisely, training I must complete and processes and procedures with which I should comply. In my professional role I attend supervisions, I complete weekly log sheets, I communicate key updates to fellow professionals in the team-around-the-child, I attend committee meetings of the local authority’s Foster Carers’ Association and the Corporate Parenting Panel, I deliver training, I submit my contact expenses and my tax return. I am skilled and experienced in play therapy, speech and language development, development of infant gross motor skills, sleep training and infant nutrition as well as knowledgeable and trained in attachment theory and transition planning. I have been subject to a rigorous recruitment and vetting process and I am appraised annually, with an approval panel every three years.
I feel and I behave just as professionally in the public face of my fostering work as I did in my previous job. True I don’t have a formal social work qualification (although I do have a degree in social and political science) but since when was a social work degree the only route to being a professional? The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) appears on the Feb 2018 list of government approved professional organisations……is there anything more to say?
AND THEN, as a foster mum, I do all those things that I did as a birth parent with my own children – I take my little one to Baby Ballet class and Baby swimming, I hold her close when she has her vaccinations, I potty-train, I teach her to use a knife and fork, recognise colours, count to ten. I sing with her, I take her to the zoo, I stack wooden blocks over and over again so she can delight in pushing them over, I lie on my stomach on the floor and push cars around. I braid her hair and I kiss her tummy when I change her nappy. And yes, I love her.
And I do all these things knowing that one day (possibly soon) I will let her go to her forever family. I do them in the knowledge that I do not have parental responsibility for her. I do them whilst facilitating her contact with her birth family and protecting myself against the possibility of a complaint or allegation. But I still do them. I am the only mum she knows – I am not a substitute for anyone – I am me and I am her mum – her FOSTER mum.
I am a professional foster parent.