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ONLINE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 130 DECEMBER 2009 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

SPECIAL SERIES: CHAPTER*

A daily life approach to foster care

Leon Fulcher and Thom Garfat

Foster Carers are ideally situated to be among the most influential of healers and helpers. Think about that statement. It represents the basic orientation to this little book. Foster Carers are significant and important people in the lives of children and youth. Foster Carers are healers.

A Foster Carer’s position in the daily life of a young person allows him or her to intervene proactively, responsively and often immediately to help a young person discover and learn new ways of being in the world. This immediacy of intervention creates in-the-moment learning opportunities for the young person as the young person is living their life. It is not a form of healing and helping based on reflective conversations in an isolated office, although those are often important conversations. Nor is it a form of intervention based on structured and regulated contact as might be found operating in a residential group living environment where staff working shifts are quite different from Foster Caring.

We recognize that residential group living environments are also powerful forms of helping for young people at different stages of their development. And it is not uncommon for young people to move from residential group living environments to intensive foster care environments. So both groups need to know more about what the other group actually does. Thus, while intended
for Foster Carers, this book may well serve to inform others about this important work.

Foster Care is based on helping young people live their life differently, as they are living it (Garfat, 2002). It is a focused, timely, practical, and, above all immediately responsive form of helping which uses “applied learning and daily uses of knowledge to inform more responsive daily encounters with children or young people.” (Fulcher 2004, p. 34).

Foster Care is immediate. It focuses on the moment as it is occurring. It allows for the opportunity for a young person to learn, and practice, new thoughts, feelings and actions in the most important of arenas, daily life.

Imagine, for example, a young person who has difficulty in respectful communication and for whom the helping team has decided that respectful communication will be a part of her intervention plan. While she might take classes in ‘communication’, or visit a therapist to understand why she is acting in such a manner, the Foster Carer has the opportunity, in ‘real time’ to:

Few other forms of helping have such immediate relevance for the young person.

The words ‘everyday events’ suggest the routine, the non-technical and the unimportant tasks. Yet it was here, in the everyday events, that the child’s development and function became impaired and problematic, and the ... worker’s skill lies exactly here, in getting the youngster’s days to start going right again.
                                                                                                     — Brian Gannon, 2000

We have written this little volume specifically to help Foster Carers focus more directly on the daily life space where living and developmental learning is nurtured with looked after children or young people through the planned use of daily life events. It is our belief that the more Foster Carers are able to focus effectively on ‘learning in the moment’ the more powerful their interventions and environments will be. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things with looked after children and young people underpins any attempt to provide quality care in a family setting. We salute those who make a difference in children and young people’s lives.

This volume is organized around England’s Every Child Matters Agenda (2005) for Foster Carers and Scotland’s Getting It Right For Every Child (or Young Person) in Foster and Kinship Care Agenda (2007), thereby highlighting a comparative social policy dimension to this volume and it’s focus on enhanced developmental outcomes for looked after children and young people. We have brought together a Commonwealth perspective on ‘developmental assets’ (Search Institute, 1997, 2007) which are now used in many different parts of the world and a Child and Youth Care Approach (Garfat, 1998) because when combined, they offer powerful and helpful learning for Foster Carers, providing opportunities for better outcomes for young people in Foster Care. The literature on the Circle of Courage and other writings circulated by Reclaiming Youth International has also been influential (see, for example, Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2002) as has other resiliency and strength focused material.

The Developmental Assets
The 40 Developmental Assets were identified by the Search Institute of Minneapolis, following research on millions of children and young people, as “concrete, common sense, positive experiences and qualities essential to raising successful young people”. Over time, these assets have been revised and adapted for use with younger and older children as well as adolescents. As Leon Fulcher (2005) wrote elsewhere:

The basic idea behind this Strengths-Based Approach is that certain external and internal influences – or what the Search Institute calls assets – have been shown empirically to dramatically shape young people’s chances in life. Kids with more assets have greater chances for success. 20 external assets have been identified around four themes: Support; Empowerment; Boundaries & Expectations; and Constructive Use of Time. These External Assets involve family members, other adults, community involvement and safety, family, school, neighbourhood and peer group boundaries, and purposeful use of time at school, home and in the community.

At the same time there are 20 internal assets or internalised characteristics that help shape daily living. These are also grouped around four distinctive themes: Commitment to Learning; Positive Values; Social Competencies; and Positive Identity. Highlighted in these Internal Assets are issues associated with achievement and engagement in learning activities, whether at school or at home. They also involve values such as caring, equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility and restraint. Competencies associated with planning and decision-making, interpersonal and cultural skills, resistance skills and peaceful conflict resolution are also highlighted. Finally, themes such as personal power, self-esteem, having a sense of purpose and hope for the future are also reaffirmed as important.
                                                                                         — Leon Fulcher, 2005

In this book, we have made no attempt to focus specifically on each of the 40 developmental assets. Further information about the Search Institute assets can be found via their website (www.search-institute.org). Here we have used this resiliency and strengths-based approach to inform daily life interventions in foster caring for looked after children and young people. Both
approaches are used here to provide foster carers with materials from child and adolescent development to promote a practical, strengths-based approach to Foster Care. Throughout this volume an emphasis is placed on the development of a strong sense of self within every looked after child or young person. Self, we believe, is central to the helping process.

A Child and Youth Care Approach
We have been involved in working with youth and their families, and those who work with them, for a number of years. Throughout our time in the field there has evolved an approach to helping that is now recognised as a contemporary ‘Child and Youth Care Approach’, which focuses on the following characteristics and principles (Garfat 2004):

These characteristics of a Child and Youth Care Approach are woven into the various chapters of this book, not as distinct points (although sometimes we might focus specifically on one of the characteristics) but rather as a unifying philosophy which defines how we are when we work to help young people grow developmentally.

A team parenting approach
As stated at the beginning, we believe Foster Carers are well positioned to be the most influential of helpers and healers in a child’s life. A large part of this is explained through Foster Carers’ being ideally placed to use opportunity events in a young person’s daily life, as these opportunities occur. Another large part of the reason is because Foster Carers are not alone in this work. Foster Carers are a part of a team, working together with other significant people to promote team parenting.

Each of us plays a specific role with the young people we are ‘looking after’. Some of us focus on one area, some on another. Some of us deliver direct service and some of us offer indirect support to the direct carer. Some of us create the agency framework for helping and healing and some of us enact it. What is important is not so much ‘what we do’ but that we do it together with a common focus on the plan of care and the goals for each individual child or young person. Thus, as a team, we must agree on the plan, on the approach, and on how to best ‘be with’ the individual child or young person. This does not mean that we all have to be the same in all our interactions with the young people but it does mean that we must all be ‘on the same page’ in focus and approach. We need to have a common way of understanding the young person and work according to that understanding. This consistency of approach is what makes any team parenting approach to helping a powerful support for the young person’s growth and development.

Throughout this book you will find references to teachers, social workers, birth families, doctors, nurses, etc. As you encounter them, remember ‘it’s all about us’ and if we are not working together within a common framework of understanding, our interventions will be less effective than they might be. Thus, if you do happen to find yourself unable to connect very well with
another member of the team, you will need to work with that individual so we can all come together in this endeavour of helping. Sometimes the most important work we do with young people and/or their families is in either advocating for the young person or working on our own relationships with other professionals.

I think to get the best out of foster care in the year 2000 and beyond ... we need to work with each other in a collaborative way that acknowledges the importance of each other’s role. It should recognise the importance of the concept of partnership, be creative and prepared to give new things a go. We cannot work in isolation and we need to respect each other, working to achieve positive outcomes for the children we care for.
                                                                                                                                   — Jill Wain, 1999

Our goal has been to write something that is both theoretically sound and realistically practical. Our hope is that in doing so we can help you in your important work; the helping and healing of young people.

Children are always the only future the human race has; teach them well.

References

Brendtro, L. K., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (2002). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future (Rev. ed.). National Educational Service: Bloomington, IL.

The Government’s Response to the Education and Skills Select Committee’s Ninth Report of Session 2004-05: Every Child Matters. (2005). Department for Children, Schools and Families. Available here: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/

Fulcher, L. C. (2004). Programmes & Praxis: A Review of Taken-for-Granted Knowledge. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 3, 2. pp. 33-34.

Fulcher, L. C. (2005). Postcard from Glasgow. CYC-OnLine, 76. Available here:
http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0505-fulcher.html

Gannon, B. (2000). What exactly is Child and Youth Care work? CYC-OnLine, 14. Available here:
http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0400-whatiscyc.html

Garfat, T. (2002). “But That’s not what I meant’’: Meaning-making in Foster Care. Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, 3, 1. pp. 113 - 124.

Garfat, T. (Ed) (2004). A Child and Youth Care Approach to Working with Families. Binghamton: The Haworth Press, Inc.

Scottish Government (2007). Getting it Right for Every Child in Kinship and Foster Care. Available here:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/12/03143704/0

Search Institute (1997, 2007). What are Developmental Assets? Available here:
http://www.search-institute.org/assets

Wain, J. (1999). Partnership: The caring team. Children Australia, 24,4.

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This chapter: Fulcher, L. and Garfat, T. (2008). Chapter 1. Quality Care in a Fanily Setting: A Practical Guide for Foster Carers. Pretext. Cape Town. pp. 3-12.

*This is the eleventh in a new series of chapters which the authors have permission to publish separately and which they have now contributed to CYC-Online. Read more about this program.