The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “foster carers”

Book Review: The Secure Base Model

Bringing together currently available material and resources, since the development of the Model by the authors in 2000, “The Secure Base Model” begins with an introduction to the underpinning theoretical concepts of attachment and resilience. The five dimensions of the model itself: availability, sensitivity, acceptance, co-operation and family membership, are each explored from the perspective of the needs of the child and the approach of the carer, as a ‘positive framework for therapeutic caregiving’.

The authors go on to show how the model can be used in working with applicant foster carers and adopters, assessing the capacity of existing carers, including an interview format for use with carers to assess their capacity to provide a secure base for a child in their care, and more general guidelines on using the secure base model in guiding and supporting carers. A final chapter on assessing and reviewing the progress of children in placement includes a valuable, well laid out, checklist of how a secure base looks throughout childhood, from birth to 18.

The accompanying guide for foster carers and adopters (Promoting Attachment and Resilience) comprises the three introductory chapters on the background to the model and the chapter on assessing and reviewing the development of the children in placement, together with a format for a suggested progress record carers can use for children in placement.

Both books come with a DVD that illustrates the different aspects of the model through interviews with carers about issues they faced and how these were dealt with.

Although rooted in established theory these are primarily workbooks rather than textbooks, as suggested by their A4 format, with clear layouts and written in easily accessible language. Published by BAAF and central to the new BAAF Form F, The Secure Base Model’s place in the toolkit of the fostering social worker is already secured, however anyone involved in children’s social work will find this a useful reference and tool. Fostering and adoption departments/agencies may well want to have copies available of the shorter version intended for foster carers.

The Secure Base Model: Promoting attachment and resilience in foster care and adoption, Gillian Schofield & Mary Beek, BAAF Adoption & Fostering, A4 size Paperback £16.95, ISBN 9 781907 585838

Promoting Attachment and Resilience: a guide for foster carers and adopters on using the Secure Base Model, Gillian Schofield & Mary Beek, BAAF Adoption & Fostering, A4 size Paperback £12.95, ISBN 9 781910 039021


Faith, fostering and social work – a discussion

It’s a difficult question in today’s social work.  In a diverse society where people of many faiths mix, how representative are the caring professions of this mix?  I don’t yet have the statistical answers to that question but it seems that the climate is not in favour of persons of faith when it comes to employment in fostering. One relatively recent case highlights the discussion.

In a landmark ruling in 2011, as reported by BBC News, religious affairs correspondent, Roger Pigott, said, “the court said that while there was a right not to face discrimination on the basis on either religion or sexual orientation, equality of sexual orientation took precedence”. As of 2013 the Christian Legal Centre was still following up their case (Christians in the Firing Line by Dr Richard Scott).

The nub of the problem in this case appears to be the Johns’ position that they would be unable to tell a young person that being homosexual was OK as it would counter their spiritual beliefs. In all other respects there is no direct suggestion in the publicly available information that they would not have made good carers. However since they had previously fostered in the 1990’s, new legislation had been introduced and the world of fostering and social work had moved on.

Needless to say their case attracted a range of responses, from other Christians supporting the Johns’ position to those calling them bigots, highlighting the diversity of opinion in modern Britain.

If the Johns’ were suitable carers in all other respects it seems unfortunate they were not allowed to return to a profession they had previously enjoyed.  All the more so in an environment where more foster carers are to be welcomed. Of course, how they handle expressing their faith-based views should not be ignored and a part of their assessment and training should have included elements of going beyond stating their own beliefs, to understanding if they were able to acknowledge and express that others hold different beliefs, and how well they could work alongside other professionals who come from different religious persuasions and viewpoints.

Unfortunate though in that the fostering profession is wanting to encourage diversity; it would make for a very unequal and unrepresentative workforce if everyone has to fit the same narrow mould.  There are places for more carers from different ethnic, religious, social (an often overlooked element) and even political backgrounds, regardless of different opinions.

In court for the Johns’ the Christian Legal Centre argued that “all the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) teach against homosexual conduct” and that “all hold to the orthodox view that any sexual union outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally undesireable”.  The court responded that whilst homosexuality is a capital offence under Sharia law in some places, the Church of England allows for same sex partnerships for its clergy as long as they remain celibate within that relationship (!) (Scott), and that there is no place in British law for Christian beliefs.

Clearly then, the ruling against the Johns’ has wider implications for both British society and adherents of all faiths in the caring professions.

If parents of children in public care are to stand a chance in having their religious preferences for their children honoured then this diversity is essential.  In ruling that equality of sexuality takes precedence over the right to religious belief, the door to fostering will have been closed to many who might otherwise have made suitable and good foster carers and narrowed down the options for diversity.

A good fostering agency (private or statutory) will be able to manage these differences through the placement matching process, which already takes into account ethnicity, cultural and religious preferences of parents where expressed, age ranges and the child’s presenting behaviours; try as we might there is no such thing as the 100% perfect match.

In the wider picture this seems to have been an unfortunate ruling and that in going to court on this case all parties might just have shot themselves in the foot!

[This blog is not advocating that the Johns should have been approved as foster carers.  This is not possible without further detailed information than is available in the public domain. The purpose is to look at issues affecting the fostering profession, particularly as I prepare to return to my role as a Form F Assessor.]


Christians in the Firing Line, Dr Richard Scott, 2013, Wilberforce Publications, London, ISBN 978-0-9575725-1-5

Johns’ case news reporting:

BBC News online –

Daily Mail News online –

Guardian News online –

Telegraph online – and

Responses to the news reports:

National Secular Society –

David Cameron as reported in the Daily Telegraph –



The Assessor Relationship

Social worker Miss Jones was suspended by the GSCC in September 2011, the decision was upheld in August 2012 and again by the HCPC in August 2013.  Although Miss Jones is on record as having said her actions were silly and cited some changes in her personal life the HCPC panel found that she had shown insufficient insight into the seriousness of her behaviours.

There can be no doubt that her practice was inappropriate and that boundaries were breached, but there are some aspects that merit discussion.

As social workers we are always developing some form of relationship with the people we are working with.  The concept of the Casework Relationship is still relevant.  We walk a fine line between befriending someone in order to work with them and help them and maintaining professional boundaries and distance.  I hope nobody really believes it is OK to have a sexual relationship, share drugs, socialise or seek advice, counsel, services or loans from service users, although sadly there are some who cross these boundaries.

Of course, it is easy to get into a conversation in which a professional states the name of a band or type of music they like, or they may have a sticker on their car that indicates they are in to a particular sports activity.  For some workers it comes under the concept of ‘use of self’ in the relationship.  And with many social workers using social media such as Facebook these days our private lives have become less private.  Some service users might offer much wanted tickets to a concert or sports event, or tell you about a friend who does building work ‘on the cheap’.  Why shouldn’t they?  You’ve developed the relationship until you are viewed as a friend.  It takes tact and careful handling to refuse without damaging the relationship.

But Miss Jones was not working with a vulnerable service user (although in some of the reporting the term service user is used).  She was carrying out a Form F assessment with a prospective foster carer.  The Form F is a particularly complex assessment with a specific purpose.  It’s unlike any other assessment.  It is, in effect, a job application and a part of the assessor’s role is to ensure that the application meets the needs of both the employing agency’s Fostering Panel in the first instance and then provides the information required by placing social workers looking for a foster placement for a specific child, while ensuring that the applicant is suitable and prepared for the job ahead of them.

There are some subtle differences that apply to the relationship between an assessor and a fostering applicant:

  • The applicant is not generally deemed vulnerable, otherwise their application would not have progressed as far as the Form F Assessment, although there is a power differential that creates a degree of vulnerability that the assessor should work to overcome.
  • The Form F assessment is very intensive.  The assessor is asking the applicant to share very personal information, often of greater psychological depth than in assessments with service users.
  • The assessor role will include informal provision of information and training, additional to the training provided by the agency that may be employing the applicant.
  • The assessor should be ‘modelling’ professional behaviour.
  • If successful in their application the applicant will become a fellow professional, a member of the ‘team around the child’.

It is this last point that can cause some conflict.  Not unlike a relationship between a student and a practice placement tutor, the assessor will want to develop a professional identity in the applicant.  They know that once the applicant has been accepted their relationship will need to move on from assessor-applicant to professional colleagues, and they will want to prepare the applicant for that, while retaining the option that the assessment might reveal information that would cause the termination of the assessment.

So, what went wrong for Miss Jones?

  • Miss Jones met the applicant and carried out parts of the assessment in a pub on more than one occasion (presumably, but not specified, not in the private accommodation part of the pub)
  • Whilst in the pub and on duty Miss Jones consumed alcohol
  • Miss Jones accepted (borrowed) money (around £70) from the applicant, which was later repaid
  • Miss Jones interviewed one of the applicant’s referees in a pub (comment as above)
  • Miss Jones asked the same referee to help her obtain theatre tickets
  • Miss Jones asked the same referee for help in preparing papers for a court case (ie, sharing personal information)

Clearly professional boundaries were not maintained on several occasions.  But, as well as raising considerations of the particular nuances of the Form F assessment, Miss Jones’ experience did resurrect a memory and raise a question for me.

I have ‘observed’ an applicant and their family in a public place (not a pub) as part of an assessment.  I have also, once, been in a position where I met a referee in a public place, not intentionally.  The referee in question had asked me to meet them during their lunch break at their place of work, a busy London hospital.  With this being the only option on offer for the interview I agreed on the basis that they would find a room or somewhere private we could meet.  When we met I was asked to carry out the interview in the staff area of the hospital’s restaurant as there were no private rooms available.  With some reluctance I agreed only once we had located a table sufficiently far from any other occupied tables and as I mentally adjusted how I would conduct the interview (taking care to use language that avoided using the applicant’s name or personal details).  Would I do it again?  No.  Chalk it up to experience.

Could borrowing money from the applicant ever be considered acceptable?  If this were a vulnerable service user I would say never.  But what if you realise you’ve lost your purse or wallet, or even left it at home, it’s evening and you need to buy fuel to get home?  There’s no-one at home who is able to come and meet you with some money.  Many a times I’ve been carrying out an assessment a two hour drive away, at a time when my husband has been working in another part of the country.  It didn’t but it could easily have happened.  Is there any freedom to make a professional judgement in this situation?

As I said above, there are some subtle differences that apply to the Form F assessment.  There are shifting patterns as the assessment progresses, as the applicant shares more of their personal life to someone who would otherwise be a complete stranger, moving towards helping the applicant prepare for a professional role, often knowing that your own relationship will be terminated at the end of the assessment (especially common in independent fostering agencies who often use independent social workers for their assessments rather than their own staff who may go on to become the applicants supervising social worker).  For me, remembering that we are modelling professional behaviour is probably the best way of maintaining those professional boundaries.

The Community Care report of the committee findings in Miss Jones’ case can be found here, while the full report from the HSPC can be found here.

Ever wondered why foster carers do it?

The X-Factor success – video

100 foster homes in 7 years – that’s an average of more than one a month – current placement now 5 years

For confidentiality reasons most foster carers never really get to blow their own trumpet about what they do.  This one’s for you.

What do white people think of …. being white?

I was reminded of this question recently while reading The Emperor of Ocean Park by black author Stephen L Carter.

Carter’s main character, Tal, continuously uses the terms ‘the darker nation’ and ‘the paler nation’.  As a law professor Tal is a member of the black middle class, his recently deceased father a prominent and respected judge.  His upbringing was black middle class.  His wife is a prominent lawyer being considered for a judgeship.  The book suggests that although the university where Tal teaches is multi-cultural, black professors and black students are definitely in the minority.  At various times, particularly when faced with the arrogance of members of ‘the paler nation’, Tal experiences a ‘red mist’ of anger come over him.  As the reader of the story I perceived that the arrogance of ‘the paler nation’ is rarely overt prejudice, but rather something inbuilt, inbred and an unconscious feature of the characters of ‘the paler nation’.

Which is what brought me to the question: What do white people think of being white?  It’s one of the questions I sometimes use when undertaking Form F assessments with applicant foster carers.

There is a counterpart question:  What do black people think of being black?

I’m torn in what phraseology to use.  I like Carter’s terms darker and paler nations as they seem to better reflect the different nationalities and cultures of the world than the words ‘black’ and ‘white’.  I could as easily refer to ‘dominant cultures’ and ‘non-dominant cultures’.  In fact, the questions can be adapted to any particular culture, social class or disability.  So, if you will forgive me, I’m going to stick to just the terms, ‘black’ and ‘white’ for convenience.

But, before you read any further, ask yourself both these questions:  What do black people think of being black? And: What do white people think of being white?  It’s important, even for just a minute or two, and make a note of your answers to compare and follow up.

OK, I’m taking a chance on your answers here because now, for the purpose of illustration, I’m going to be making some generalisations.

Ask any black person the question, “What do black people think of being black?” and the chances are you will get a detailed response.  It may include issues relating to cultural heritage as well as knowledge or experience of racism, present and historical.  Answers will vary according to experiences of growing up, the cultural diversity of the societies they have lived in, experiences of prejudice, the experiences of family and friends, education and work among other things.  But the main thing is – there will be awareness.  Awareness of being black or mixed heritage.  Awareness of the issues facing, to use Carter’s term, ‘the darker nations’.

Ask any black person the question, “What do white people think of being white?” and the chances are you will get a similar response.  The issues may be different but there will be an assumption of awareness, an assumption that the white person knows they are white and possibly considers they are superior.

The response to asking a white person the question, “What does a black person think of being black?” is likely to be less consistent, mainly falling in one of three categories.  A few (hopefully a minority) will display outright prejudice, perhaps not even able to consider that a black person might be able to think let alone think about being black. Some may show an awareness of the difference in experience and opportunities, having a largely academic external understanding of the issues of prejudice and discrimination.  Others (I suspect a rather large proportion) will struggle with the question, unable to ‘put themselves in the others’ shoes’.

Asking a white person the question: “What does a white person think of being white?” will probably get a response that falls into one of two categories.  A few ‘white supremacists’ may well display an opinion of superiority.  These people exists, their views can be heard in the media from time to time.  But the majority of those asked are likely to be confused by the question.  The true answer is, “the majority of white people don’t ever think about what it means to be white, it never ever occurs to them.”  Of course there are exceptions, but I’m talking generalisations here.

I’ve thought about the question and I know the answer: Of course there are times when I think about it what it means to be white, writing this blog for example, in work and training situations, but generally, the unfortunate truth is, I don’t think about it; like most everyone else, it doesn’t occur to me to think about it.  Even as white social workers go, my multi-cultural work experience is probably average to good. I’ve worked extensively with foster carers from the Caribbean and African nations.  I’ve worked with asylum seekers from various different cultures.  I’ve worked with colleagues from different continents.  In a multi-cultural society my general awareness is reasonably good.  But as a white person I still have to admit that I find it difficult to think about what it means to be white.  It simply isn’t there.  It’s not something I grew up with.  That kind of thinking was never part of my education and culture (actually an assumed white supremacy in the form of British colonial history more a part of my childhood education).

Sometimes prejudice is very real, but even when it isn’t this thoughtlessness, ignorance and lack of awareness comes across as arrogance, elitism and supremacy.  It is the root of institutionalised racism such as rocked the British police in the late 20th Century, but which is still alive everywhere today.  It’s usually not intended to be malicious.  It’s lack of awareness.  But too often in our training and our discussions about anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice we focus on how to learn about the ‘other side’, to understand and respect different cultures, to behave differently, to promote overcoming oppression.  But how often do we look at ourselves and be honest about what we think and feel, or don’t think or feel, and why?

How do your answers compare to the generalisations made here?  Do you agree or do you think it’s way off the mark?  Comments welcome (although due to limited internet access any responses may take a little while).

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