A young girl from Sheffield who ubu supports had a particularly difficult journey which involved many failings as a result of the Fostering process.
This individual had been rejected by her birth family and so turned to Foster Care as a means to find a new family environment. Sadly the family she was placed with encountered difficulties with the vulnerable young girl and they were unable to cope; she had to leave.
Having now built up barriers of mistrust this individual needed a lot of support to find the strength to be able to live with anybody. But through hard work and after some time she found that she was ready to try again
She was placed with a second Foster family who should have been properly assessed to be able to meet her needs. However again this placement broke down and the already fragile young girl was given no choice but to move out.
Soon after she suffered another great loss as her birth mother passed away, sending her to an even darker place and meaning she needed emergency support to be able to come to terms with all that had happened in the past, and also be able to make plans for her future.
Happily this courageous girl found the strength to carry on and has been able to build a life for herself that has seen her become a responsible and driven adult.
But the problems with the fostering system; a process that should have seen her placed in an environment that was safe and nurturing, failed her twice. How did this happen?
There are many elements that should be called into question regarding this story. Given that this girl found problems with not just one but two foster families, we must ask the question; what work was undertaken during the fostering process to try to ensure the placements would be both appropriate and mutually beneficial?
The National Fostering Agency website provides information about all policies and procedures relating to fostering and its FAQ page* states that the process of becoming a foster family is usually 3-4 months long, involving a thorough assessment to ascertain suitability and background information. Following completion of the course the families will then be provided with as many details about the child they will be taking on as possible.
Given the above confirmation of the process it becomes a particular concern that this girl was let down on more than one occasion. Of course it is important to note that any situation, when it becomes a practical reality, is different on than it is on paper, and maybe both the foster families involved were inadequately prepared for the trials they found themselves facing. But it seems pertinent that having suffered one failure this girl should have become a priority case, whose needs should have been properly matched to a foster family that could cope with and provide the correct care.
Would it be unfair to suggest that the fostering process is at fault here? Could it be said that complacency was the cause of the problems in this case? It is easy to say that it was just 2 extreme examples of bad luck, like lightning striking twice. But put yourself in the shoes of this young girl, or those of her friends. Once a situation like this becomes your own personal reality the lines of moral judgment can become easily skewed.
By the same token we must acknowledge that in both cases the fostering agency in charge may too have felt let down, or that they were as upset as everyone else when relationships broke down not once, but twice. It is important to see all the potential angles of these incidents so that we become more aware in dealing with similar situations in our own lives. What was your gut feeling when you read the story?
Following the death of her mother this girl became disengaged with school and fell into use of drugs and alcohol. Whilst these are recognisable traits of someone suffering with great feelings of loss and depression it is not acceptable by any standards. This begs the question; what would you have done in this situation? Should you have been a member of staff charged with supporting this young lady, would you have been able to take the necessary actions to steer her back to the right path? Where would you start? Given the mostly secretive nature of alcoholism and in particular, drug use - what methods would you feel to be appropriate to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this individual, which wouldn't compromise her independence and/or growth into adulthood?
Fortunately for many of us, the idea of suffering rejection from our families is something we do not have to face. Although at times family members can be taken for granted, even disliked, their importance in forming the foundations of who we become and the relationships we build in our own lives is immeasurable.
However the tragedy of rejection was a harsh reality for a particular Sheffield girl that we first met in 2006. The situation at this point was in fact doubly difficult as the girl had not only had to deal with the loss of her birth family, but had also been rejected by a foster family with whom she had been placed.
This already paints a picture of how vulnerable the individual was by now. It also brings into question the measures that were taken by the fostering agency to assess the needs of the young girl and the subsequent compatibility with a foster family. What was done? Why was this allowed to happen?
It took a long time and a lot of work for the girl to work through all this pain and grief. It was a hard process and one that saw her addressing her demons head on so that she could attain confidence and belief in herself. But finally she reached a point where she was willing to try again and move into a new foster home.
Given previous failures and a seeming lack of understanding about what essential qualities a potential new foster family would need to possess, it would appear obvious that the fostering system would work steadfastly to integrate this girl into an atmosphere that would be sensitive to her needs, whilst also supporting her to grow independently. But this was not to be. Again she was placed in an environment insufficient for her and following a serious altercation had to leave this new family.
The question of "why did this happen?" becomes considerably more serious in this situation. A recent study found that 88% of foster families cited problems with children's social workers; the main complaint being that vital information about the child they foster is not conveyed as part of the process. This staggering figure highlights the severity of a much wider issue that means stories such as the above are not likely to be few and far between.
This situation led to depression, problems with drugs and alcohol and disengagement with education; worsened by the death of the girl's birth mother. It took a great deal of support, therefore, to be able to even begin the journey back to the life she deserved. 7 years on the girl has once again regained confidence. Although she still has many emotional scars she is looking to the future with drive and spirit to achieve all that she wants. She never did go back to another foster family.