Social workers play a vital role in achieving better outcomes for individuals and on World Social Work Day we have an extra reason to celebrate social work. I have been working with social workers in one local authority and have taken away some key lessons about relationships in social work.
LGBT History Month is an ideal time to reflect on a number of issues that still disproportionately affect people in the LGBT community. One area very worthy of attention is fostering. Members of the LGBT community are usually overlooked when it comes to recruiting foster carers. That may come as a surprise to those who work in adoption because, interestingly, adoption is widely promoted to LGBT families but fostering is not.
I believe that this should change. It is clear that tackling rising demand is the principle challenge facing any Director of Children’s Services. Demand for placements often outstrips supply and as a result, it is increasingly difficult to find local placements that match the needs of children and provide good value.
Foster care placements are one of the most unpredictable areas of children’s services spending, with massive variation in the cost and apparent value of each placement and, consequently, spend which bears little relation to budgets. As IMPOWER’s research shows, the choice of placements has become so stretched that the system has broken down and there is now no clear correlation between children’s placement needs, the funds allocated to meet those needs or the outcomes achieved.
So, how can local authorities take control of the situation?
At IMPOWER, we use a behavioural science approach to work in collaboration with fostering staff and foster carers to improve foster carer recruitment. Our Family Values programme encourages local authority fostering agencies to step back and think about what motivates people to foster, how they can ‘activate’ local networks and, ultimately, how they can ensure current carers feel valued. Very simply, the values framework helps everyone involved, importantly including carers, agree what to do more of, what to do differently, and what to stop doing.
Diversifying and growing the pool of approved foster carers would increase the supply of placements and would also bring other benefits. There are of course LGBT young people in the care system, and they would benefit from an expanded pool of foster carers who can offer supportive environments that allow them to express their sexuality and gender safely. In addition, non-LGBT foster carers who are caring for LGBT young people would benefit through informal peer support. In areas where peer support is strong, carers rely on one another for information and advice, and having foster carers with their own coming-out stories and who understand the various challenges associated with being LGBT would be an invaluable resource.
When Pride season kicks off in just a few months’ time, I would be delighted if we can see local authorities starting authentic, two-way conversations with LGBT families about fostering, as well as adoption. We know definitely that the best way to do that is through peer advocacy and word-of-mouth recommendation. This means preparation and planning now!