Some foster carers feel ‘disrespected’ by staff

Some foster carers feel “disrespected” by social workers, while both parties said a lack of clarity and timely resolution of issues was impacting on family life.

The findings are included in a new report on a joint consultation with foster carers and social workers across the country, published by Tusla.

Its findings were mainly positive, with more than 90% of foster carers saying they felt rewarded through helping a child or family in need, while 84% said they both understood how the system worked and felt appropriately supported when seeking advice regarding a child with a history of abuse.

Among social workers, almost all felt supported by management when integrating a child into foster care, 89% felt appropriately skilled to deal with a placement breakdown, and 93% agreed that the foster family and the social worker combined to solve problems on behalf of a child.

However, while more than 90% of social workers said they felt respected by the foster families with whom they work, 75% of foster carers felt respected by their social workers.

Among foster carers, 37% felt their contribution was not acknowledged by social workers, while around one-third of both cohorts believed there should be better communication between social workers and foster families.

The consultation report was the result of over 60 hours of conversation with more than 300 foster carers, social workers, principal social workers and Tusla area managers. It argued there had been progress in recent years on a number of issues and put forward evidence of further improvements since the consultation process ended last year.

However, according to the report:

“The most significant challenge raised within the surveys and national consultations was that foster carers, on occasion, felt disrespected by the tone and nature of communications with social workers. Connected to this issue was a view that foster carers were not sufficiently part of a partnership process in their engagement with social workers.

“The initial survey highlighted cultural issues in relation to trust, respect, and timely communication. The national consultations also highlighted some concerns about a tendency for Tusla, in the past, to be risk-averse, particularly when it came to innovation and programme development.

"This culture was viewed, in part, to be driven by increasing regulations, high-profile inspections, and negative media coverage. There was a perception that overall communication approaches and management style could be, at times too top-down, reactive, and liability oriented.”

Some of those interviewed also felt there was a lack of clarity and consistency in relation to how many policies and work processes operated.

“A lack of clarity and timely resolution of issues impacts on the everyday work of social workers and foster carers,” it said.

It also referred to “significant capacity constraints in relation to current levels of social worker staffing in numerous regions”.

A large range of recommendations were made, and Cormac Quinlan, director of transformation and policy, Tusla, said a number of measures were already being put in place, including laying the foundations for an extension of after-hours and out-of-hours services.

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