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Social Work Case Study – Foster Care

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Published: Fri, 15 Sep 2017

Kirsty Lynch  

“You are a new social worker to the case. Your team leader has asked you to look at where the placement is going. What should be the care plan for James?”

As the newly appointed social worker to James’ case I have reviewed all of James file and have met with James and his foster family in order to complete an appropriate care plan. In accordance with best practice guidelines I met James on his own and spoke to him about his current placement and where he would like this to go. Hearing the voice of James informed my decision when choosing an appropriate care plan for James as this went beyond simply listening to his wishes, but it also allowed me to hear his fears and concerns regarding his placement and future placements (HSE, 2013).

The overall aim of James’ care plan is to determine the most suitable placement for James in the long-term. As multiple foster care placements can often disrupt stability and educational needs it is important to ensure as little disruption to James’ routine as possible (Darmody, et al., 2013). Having met with James, I have evaluated three placement options for James and concluded my final recommendation below.

Placement Option 1: Relative Foster Care

Under Section 3 (2)(c) of the 1991 Child Care Act, it states that it is in the best interest of children to grow up within their biological families. When a child is in need of a foster care placement, Tusla, the Child and Family agency, will initially look for a suitable relative or a person who is known to the child to provide relative foster care. Relative foster care, also known as Kinship care is defined as “the full-time nurturing and protection of children who must be separated from their parents, by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or other adults who have a kinship bond with a child” (Winokur, et al., 2009, p. 8).

Advantages of Relative Foster Care

Relative foster care improves children’s sense of belonging through the continuity of family identity, which plays a huge role in terms of the stability of the foster placement (Farmer & Moyers, 2008). Research shows that there is little difference between how well children do in relative or non-relative care, it is a consistent finding that children in relative care do just as well as children in non-relative foster care, including the stability of the placement (Hunt, et al., 2008), however it is found that children in kinship care find relative care to be less stigmatising than non-relative foster care (Messing, 2006).

Other advantages of placing children in relative foster care include; familiarity for the child, family identity, access to wider family, less traumatic environment and the child is able to continue with their life within their own ethnic, racial and religious background (Cuddeback & Orme, 2002)

Disadvantages of Relative Foster Care

Research suggests that relative foster care does not provide children with the same level of safety as non-relative placements and as a result, non-relative foster placements may be safer in terms of the possibility of violence or other environmental dangers (Berrick, 1997). Cuddeback (2004) found that children in relative care do not function as well as children in the general or non-relative foster care, this includes higher reported behavioural problems and lower performance in school subjects. Children living in relative foster care often experience more environmental adversity due to the demographic characteristics of their relative foster carers (i.e relative foster carers tend to be older, less educated, single, possibility of illness and poverty) (Ehrle & Geen, 2002).

Placement Option 2: Long-term Foster Care

The second option for James is that his current foster placement is turned into a Long-term foster placement, this would involve James continuing with his current foster family on a long-term basis. Long-term foster care is required when a social work department reaches a decision that it is unlikely that a child or young person will return to their own family and necessitates a commitment from the foster family for a number of years (IFCA, 2017). Long-term foster care allows children to become a part of their foster family and often continue to live with their long-term foster family until they reach adulthood (IFCA, 2017). Long-term foster care is generally classed as any period of time over 6 months, James’ placement has already drifted into a longer-term placement then originally planned as James has been with the Behan family for more than a year.

Advantages of Long-term Foster Care

Research suggests that children in care are much better off being cared for in long-term family units rather than being cared for in residential care homes. This is because children in long-term foster families receive more individual attention than they would in a residential setting where they are one child out of a large number of children being cared for.

Festinger (1983) found that children who were in long-term foster care, functioned better than children who were brought up in residential care settings in a variety of different areas, these areas included; children in long-term foster care accomplished higher levels of education, had a smaller chance of criminal behaviour which would lead to arrest or conviction, had less disappointment with the frequency of contact that they had with biological siblings, were less likely to move away when they reached independence and less likely to live alone in adulthood. A long with this young people in long-term foster care were less likely than those in residential care to develop problems around substance abuse (Jones & Moses, 1984).

Long-term foster care can provide children with a sense of belonging when the foster family allow the child to become a part of their family, children in long-term foster care often engage in family rituals and fun experiences which is important for encouraging feelings of belonging (Hedin, 2014). Research also shows that long-term foster carers’ who are meaningfully involved in the foster child’s life and who offer supportive and caring relationships, provide better placement stability and less breakdown of placements (Christiansen, et al., 2013).

Disadvantages of Long-term Foster Care

International research suggests that children who are in long-term foster care may be at risk of lower emotional and developmental outcomes when compared with children who are reunified with their birth families, or children who are adopted (Moran, et al., 2016).

The legal status of long-term foster care offers no sense of permanency for children and young people, and as a result, children in long-term foster care can often be left with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. There is a strong possibility that children will be further subjected to more legal proceedings and there is always the change that the placement will be terminated (Grey, 2006).

Placement Option 3: Residential Foster Care

In my opinion, residential foster care should only be chosen as a “last resort” placement as children deserve to be brought up in a family. However, for young people who are effectively unable to live in their own home or in an alternative foster family, residential care may be the only suitable placement. There are various types of residential care, some are homes run by the HSE, others are run by private companies or voluntary organisations. Regardless of the type of residential setting, all are subject to inspection. In accordance with policy and best practice, the HSE does not place children who are 12 years of age or under in residential foster care except in exceptional circumstances (McEvoy & Smith, 2011).

Advantages of Residential Foster Care

A small study which was conducted by “Save the Children” found that a high percentage of children in care identified that that would rather be in residential care than living in a foster home (Barry, 2001). Those interviewed advised that they had a strong preference for residential care as they felt it was more stable for young people, especially around schooling and found that it was easier to talk about their experiences with other children who are in residential care (Moran, et al., 2016). The young people identified that their trust in people and their capacity to sustain long-term relationships was affected by the constant moving between foster care placements and various schools, whereas in residential care they felt this was a long-term solution and they were able to maintain friendships with school friends by continuing to attend the same school on a regular basis (Barry, 2001).

Disadvantages of Residential Foster Care

The study found that children also identified many negatives with residential care, including; challenging to have any time alone, the lack of discipline made it difficult to live with other young people who had challenging behaviour and often the unpredictable ambience that was formed by a large number of young people all living together in one care setting (Barry, 2001).

Other research emphasised a variety of problems experienced in residential care, both physical and emotional, which can have an enormous impact on the stability of the placement (Hyde & Kammerer, 2009). These included a high turnover of residential staff, anxiety, dealing with impulsive behaviours of other young people and often children who are placed in residential care can model their own behaviour off of others and as a result young people in residential care often have aggressive tendencies (Moran, et al., 2016). By placing together young people who are at-risk, this can often limit their experience of positive role models and their prospects to develop their own attitudes and pro-social skills (Turner & Macdonald, 2011).

My Recommendation

It is my recommendation that James continue his placement and that this be made long-term. When James first came into foster care the CFA assessed James for relative foster care, unfortunately James has no relatives other than his mother Jennifer in Ireland and Jennifer has very little contact with her family back home. To date Jennifer has not been in contact with the CFA despite a number of attempts from the CFA to make contact with her. Jennifer left Ireland without informing the CFA and it has since become clear that she is living abroad in a new relationship. Jennifer has made no attempts to make contact with James in over 12 months.

Children deserve to grow up in a loving, caring family, and I feel James deserves to experience this with the Behan family as it is not possible for James to return to his biological family. Research shows that children who experience loving relationships with foster families frequently consider them as their second family (Mason & Tipper, 2008), from speaking with James it is clear that he regards the Behan family as his own family. Mary supports James’ emotionally, James feels that he can trust Mary, this is evident as James confided in Mary about being bullied in school. International research shows that foster parents who are emotionally concerned about their foster children and who provide supportive relationships with their foster children, have been found to provide better placement stability and there is a much lower risk of the breakdown of placements (Carnochan, et al., 2013).

James has been living with the Behan family for 14 months, has frequently attended the local primary school and has been enrolled into the local secondary school for September coming. I feel that the transition from primary school to secondary school will be hard on James, however I feel that with the support of the Behan family, and familiar friends attending the same school, that this will be easier for James than being uprooted to a new foster home and starting over again in a new school unknown to him.

It is my final recommendation that it is in James’ best interests to continue his placement with the Behan family and that this placement be made into a long-term placement.

“Your team leader is sceptical about the idea of supporting the skiing holiday idea (on financial and health and safety grounds). But she also asks you to argue for the idea, so that the issues can be clearly set out for discussion and decision”

I support the idea of James going on a skiing holiday as I feel that holidaying with family is an integral part of growing up and will benefit James in a number of ways. I have outlined below what I feel the benefits of this holiday will be to James and I have supported this with academic research. I have also addressed your concerns on the financial and health and safety grounds of James attending this holiday.

Benefits of Skiing family Holiday

Studies show holidays can benefit carers and  children in their care by helping to create a bond between the two (Lewis, 2001). Research on the effects of children in care’s participation in holidays has also specifically explored how engaging in holidays can be a way of encouraging engagement with mainstream society and promoting the social inclusion of children in care (Quinn & Stacey, 2010). Lewis (2001) found that children in care were aware of their social exclusion and they often felt they were missing out on holidays that other children were able to experience with their families. This is supported by Hughes who advised that being able to go on holiday gives children the ability to participate in the commonly ordinarily “accepted  style of life in the community” (Hughes, 1991).

Benefits of Family Holidays for Foster Children:

Strengthening Family bonds: Holidays allow children and their foster families time to bond as a family. It is crucial for children to have healthy attachments and family holidays provide provision for this to happen (IFAPA, 2013). If James’ placement is to be made long-term, it is important that he continues to build and maintain relationships within the Behan family and a family holiday will help both James and the family to strengthen their family bonds.

Normalisation: Family holidays are a normal part of growing up and often children in care can feel that they are not “normal” and that they don’t fit in with social norms. A lot of children in foster care often miss out on the normality of family life and this should not be the case (IFAPA, 2013). It is important for James to feel that he is part of the Behan family and for him to continue to have as normal a childhood as possible.

Independence: By including foster children in the planning process of a holiday, this can boost children’s independence. Foster children can learn a lot about the holiday planning process that can allow them to have some ownership, this is not only ownership within the process, but also ownership in the outcome of the holiday. Holidays are a vital part of childhood and provide many opportunities for children in care to learn valuable life skills (IFAPA, 2013).

Foster children often feel that they are not important enough to include and many struggle with feelings of low self worth (IFAPA, 2013). Currently James is struggling with feelings of low self worth as he has reacted badly to his mother’s disappearance and has become quite withdrawn and depressed. The fact that the Behan family wish to include James on their family holiday is important to show James that he is part of their family and that he is wanted. A holiday would be beneficial to James not only to strengthen his bond with the family, but also for his own mental wellbeing.

Financial

Foster families are provided with a fostering allowance to help foster parents to meet the daily living needs to the child’s, this allowance generally covers the likes of food, clothing and education such as books, uniforms and extra-curricular activities, the allowance also tried to cover treats such as toys, games and holidays (Tusla, 2017). When it comes to holidays, these are an expensive event for any family, especially if the holiday is abroad. The Behan family have already worked together to save as much as they can for the upcoming Skiing holiday to contribute to the cost of bringing Sean with them. The remaining €400 that they are seeking from Tusla is needed in order to pay for the extra insurance needed to bring Sean away, Sean’s passport, as well as needing a bigger apartment to ensure that Sean has his own bedroom for the duration of the holiday. Many other fostering agencies recognise this and in some cases, increase the foster carers allowance over the duration of school holidays which can often help foster carers to fund a holiday for their foster child (NFA, 2015). In some cases foster parents are entitled to an additional payment when they choose to take their foster child on a family holiday with them and I feel that this should be the case for the Behan family as the benefits for James would be immense (NFA, 2015).

Health and Safety

The Irish foster care association advises that foster children are not always covered under family insurance policies for holidaying as foster children may not be included in the definition of family or close relative. They further advise that they have raised this issue with many travel insurance companies and as a result, more and more travel insurance companies are now including foster children under the definition of family since the legalities of foster care have been brought to their attention (IFCA, 2013). I have contacted a number of travel insurance companies on behalf of the CFA to confirm whether or not foster children are included on their policies and have compiled a list of appropriate companies for future purposes.

As there is further risk associated with sports holidays, such as a skiing holiday, this has been further discussed with the Behan family to ensure that the insurance policy that they take out has a provision for a skiing holiday.

The Behan family are aware of the health and safety risks of a skiing holiday with James and have discussed their concerns around this with me. Having researched health and safety and insurance of foster children on holidays, the Behan family have advised that they are satisfied that the insurance policy that they will be taking out will be sufficient for James to attend the holiday with them.

Conclusion

The research provided proves that children can benefit from holidays abroad by experiencing new activities, culture and educational experiences. In her research on children in care in 2001, Lewis identified the benefits of children in care participating in family holidays as strengthening relationships, relaxation, escaping routine, social interaction, self-fulfilment and educational opportunities (Lewis, 2001). As a result I support the idea of James attending the skiing holiday with the Behan family as I believe that holidaying with family is an integral part of growing up and it will benefit James to experience this while providing him with a positive childhood experience which many foster children often miss out on.

Word Count: 2,997

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