Read our foster carers' diary, which outlines their first fulfilling week of life with a parent and baby engagement in place.
Having completed the parent and child training provided by Anchor Foster Care, we received a large number of parent and child referrals. These came thick and fast from a wide area because unfortunately supply does not seem to meet demand. After a number of false starts including a placement that was terminated 5 minutes before the initial get to know you meeting, we began a placement.
This is our journal of that time.
Day 1 - Arrival
Our placement came straight from hospital accompanied by a male social worker who was not going to manage the case, an unanticipated event by us at the time, but as it turns out, not unusual. We try to complete paperwork for the social worker with as light a touch as possible so that the parent does not feel that they are being processed; this is going to be a traumatic experience for them and our aim is to minimise its impact, while ensuring that we have emergency contact details for the social worker team.
In this early stage we also set about getting a steer on the degree of oversight required. This is useful as it helps ensure that everyone sings from the same hymn sheet.
We also quickly establish our house rules. We only have two initially, which are: do not go into our room, and please smoke outside.
Our training talked about a getting to know you meeting before a mutual decision would be made around letting the parent and child move in. This has not happened on any of our placements so you do have to get a feel for a person from the write up you receive from the parent's social worker. The most important criteria for us is, 'Does the person want to engage with the process?' On that basis, we felt able to start.
My husband takes our new arrival's packing upstairs, which allows us girls to chat. It is vital to ensure that both mum and baby have all they need by way of hygiene products and milk and a chat provides an opening to explore this. On this occasion mum had decided to try to breastfeed so we keep the hall lights on to begin with and put a night light in her room. Fortunately, the nightlight was not used after about two weeks as Mum was sufficiently relaxed - great news for us all.
Day 2 - Shopping
As with all fostering, nothing should be taken for granted so we do a food shop. We also make sure that the pram system is understood before using it with the baby.
Luckily, all of the mums who we've had arrive with us so far have been well stocked with items for the baby, especially with pram systems. Some of these are more practical than others but provided they are clean and safe, we use them.
When going shopping for basics, it allows everyone to make choices for breakfast and gets the ball rolling on discussions around likes and dislikes. Even though hospitals tend to wait to discharge until Social Workers are ready for them, care is taken to make sure that the shop is not too strenuous for the mum.
In this case our mum had put all her effort into preparing for her baby, so only had the clothes she stood up in. We were given permission to spend £100 on clothing from Primark. Some guidance was required, but as a list was discussed on the way nothing was missed and mum had some clean clothes to change into. It was a small consideration that went a long way to showing that someone cared in a practical way.
After shopping, we offer to help Mum unpack and to see if her room needed to be rearranged in any way. On this occasion our help was not needed and Mum declined.
Day 3 - Paperwork
Getting the baby registered locally is a must. In this circumstance, the mother was from a different area, so we got her temporarily registered.
Fast forward to today and we are now well known at our local doctors. We also have a great relationship with the local health visitors as we regularly communicate with them. Our job is to step in if the child is in danger, so health permission forms are not required but we do speak with health services while we're waiting for paperwork to catch up.
Reporting, an essential requirement of our role, is done daily. It's completed by my husband and we go through it after every evening meal. This gives a chance to ensure that the parent staying with us knows what is being reported and is able to see how they can improve. What's more, parents can receive congratulations when they are doing well. In this case, we were able to record that the baby was well prepared for. This has been the case for all our parent and child placements.
We did worry initially about the fact that reports can be used in court, but the key is to state what was observed and if the mum seems upset to get her to talk about it so you can record what she says. In this situation, Mum was engaged, and the social worker had reports from our supervising social worker that supported her efforts, so we felt more at ease. As a rule, we always send the first few reports directly to the social worker to ensure that they are happy with the format, and this also gives us confidence in our work going forward.
Day 4 - Routines
In order to make the house run smoothly it is important that in the shared area everything has a place. This is especially true with bottles and sterilising equipment. The changing bag is kept by the pram with the red book in it and we now use a nappy hamper in the front room for changing downstairs. During this placement, we were using our changing bag for house changes. We make a concerted effort to ensure that soiled nappies are taken outside to the bin as soon as practical. This is initially done by all members of the household but then becomes the responsibility of the parent. The way we play this is, we are just doing what would normally happen with mother, aunt or sister staying over for a week or so - a good tip that you could also introduce, should you decide to become a parent and child carer.
To support our mum further, we also went out round the village to show her the lay of the land, pointing out where the best places to cross the road with a pram are. It's such a small thing but it all goes towards increasing her self-confidence.
Day 5 - Midwife and Health visitor
It varies but a midwife will visit initially every 2 -3 days. We need to respect our placement's privacy but also need to ensure we are kept informed about matters so to do this we start by sitting in and then leaving. In this case Mum was articulate and open; we have had a case where the mum could not concentrate, so I've stayed with her for longer.
In this scenario, the local authority wanted a family nurse who could visit more regularly than a health visitor and would be able to help support young parents with life skills. This worked well as mum was not from our area and a lack of ongoing continuity was an issue.
Day 6 - Court
Mum had her first court case whilst staying with us. We looked after the baby while she attended court (the first time we had looked after the baby). Mum did not want to be supported in court but did come out emotionally drained, or more correctly, said she was drained. It was here that we got to meet her social worker. The social worker did promise to visit once a week and it was clear that Mum did not believe her. However, a plan for carrying out the parenting assessment was discussed anyway. This is an important document, and the parent and social worker will have several structured meetings to produce it. We found it useful to discuss the areas that would be covered so that the social worker would not be “cold calling” on various subjects.
Day 7 - Social time
Mum was a city girl and wanted to show her baby to her friends. We agreed to facilitate this, but not without setting boundaries on times and what we are prepared to do. We also set the condition that we needed to be in sight and sound of baby at all times.
At the end of the placement, mum did want one of us present in court with her for support, which shows just how much our relationship had progressed.
We hope by reading our diary you will see that while parent and child fostering can have its demands and challenges, this does settle down to a more manageable level. As regards to what skills you need to undertake this role, they are the same as fostering:- Provide a safe, nurturing, environment, be flexible and do not make assumptions; be consistent, keep up to date with reports, and give time. Unlike fostering this is hands-off so you have to ensure that you only step in when necessary, and ensure that everyone knows why you stepped in. That said it is a wonderfully fulfilling role, with the potential to develop a meaningful bond between yourself and the family in placement. We definitely recommend it as a profession.