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Foster Carers' TSD Standards covered:

Author Details


Name: Dr Amber Elliott

Job Title: Clinical Psychologist

Current place of work: The Child Psychology Service, Lichfield and PAFCA

I so often hear that foster carers and adopters feel that their knowledge of their child(ren) is not taken into account by the powers that be. The struggle in getting your voice heard might be in relation to; pursuing support, upcoming court proceedings, the impact of contact or interactions with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Many carers and parents that I’ve worked with have found this quite a soul-destroying process in which they try and try to communicate vital information that they know is important and should be acted upon. Unfortunately it often feels like, for one reason or another, their knowledge either isn’t heard or doesn’t translate into action by relevant services. The result of not being listened to, for any of us, is likely to be one of two things; we either give up, “Why bother? No-one wants to hear it” or we become more and more stubbornly fixed in our position, and blinkered to others.

As well as witnessing the frustration of parents and carers, I have also sat in wide-eyed awe of some, who seem to be able to get their opinions heard and acted upon. Of course, the way this goes often depends upon who’s in the audience and whether carers’/parents’ opinion is already the same as other professionals or the opinion is, for one reason or another, something the system doesn’t want to hear. But there are powerful ways of analysing what you know and communicating about it in a way that is very tough for others to ignore. Ultimately everyone involved wants a clear answer for problems that they can believe in.

PAFCA's Getting Your Voice Heard Top 5 Tips

Fundamentally, you’re trying to get into the mind-set of a scientist, it’s crucial to think about what you know as evidence and to strive to be as objective as you can. Imagine yourself looking down on the problem, how would you see it if you weren’t directly involved or how would an objective friend see it? Your emotional responses to the situation are an incredibly important and powerful piece of the jigsaw but they too need to be looked at scientifically.

The following Top 5 Tips are step-by-step instructions about how to translate what you know into ‘evidence” and ensure that it is as useful, accurate and as hard to ignore as it can be.

Prepare and present your information methodically.

You cannot determine what conclusions a group of professionals may come to about your child, you can only control how powerfully you present your part of the evidence. Ask the following questions of your knowledge and present the evidence that comes out of the process in this systematic way. You could perhaps use a chart with the following questions as column headings and the concerns you have as the rows along the side.

What are the problems that you see on a to day basis? E.g. soiling, controlling behaviour, withdrawal. Write down detailed, specific examples.

What are your ideas about where the problems/issues come from? E.g. Contact with parents is reawakening their early trauma, the child is unfamiliar with kind parenting and therefore being parented by you causes them anxiety or fear, the child’s experience of domestic violence has made them default to aggression in times of stress.

It is very important that you include more than one idea for each problem here. If you get too convinced that just one idea is right you’ll stop looking and stop listening to others.

Provide examples and experiences as evidence for and against each of your ideas about the issue that you have concerns about.

Suggested ways of changing things. It’s only when you’ve been through the other two questions that you can realistically come up with suggestions of how to solve the problem. E.g. Try reducing contact, the child could be placed with no other children, time-in rather than time-out.

Again, you’ll need to come up with several ideas about this as, even if your answers to the first two questions have been perfectly well thought through, it’s unlikely that just one solution will crack it.

Typically, people jump straight to this stage and then answer the other two questions when they’ve already decided what needs to be done. Remember, this scientific approach will be most effective and ensure that your evidence is most likely to be heard.

How will your and others know if the change has worked? Suggest something tangible and obvious that you’d expect to see if the change you’ve made has worked and over what timescale. Prepare realistic change goals and allow much longer than you’d think to see the result of any therapeutic parenting changes E.g. The child has approached for cuddles on a greater number of occasions after three months, more frequent verbal communication about feelings, greater amount of time spent asleep.

If it hasn’t worked after you’ve given each potential solution plenty of time, that’s fine, you’ll just need to go back to the start of process and collect more information.

Help others to feel confident in you.

If, after following the steps above, you do indeed have vital information then it simply must be heard. If you believe in yourself and the importance of your evidence then it is also important that you don’t undermine yourself. For that reason a reasonably calm emotional state is crucial.

Try to keep as cool and calm as you can. Passion is important but if your evidence is communicated with lots of passion but no cool, calm facts (which you’ll definitely have from your experience) it won’t help anyone to understand what you’re saying and will look like what you’re saying is more about you than your child.

The importance of your emotional responses to your child.

Believe it or not your emotions, when you’re looking after developmentally traumatised children, can be very important “evidence”! They can, therefore, be a crucial part of communicating powerfully about your child.

Be very reflective about your feelings and reactions. Know yourself. Is what you’re saying solely about the child or is it about your emotional reaction to this particular child or people generally, or stressful situations on the whole. A very important part of this step is looking after your own emotions. This is not self-indulgent! You cannot accurately understand your emotional reactions if you don’t have a chance to talk, moan and, if necessary, rant to someone you genuinely trust. Once you have looked after yourself in this way you can take a more objective look at what your feelings mean and whether they stand up to non-emotional scrutiny.

Your child’s relationship with you has, sewn into its very fabric, the details of your child’s expectations of themselves, adults and the world around them. These expectations have come from their earliest experiences of relationships, the experiences that were never subject to critical scrutiny but just accepted as data, as feedback about the world, themselves and other people and how all these things all reciprocally work together. So, the way that you feel within that relationship is a vital tool in enabling you to understand the inner world of your child.

To illustrate the point think about this example; if your child’s incessant need for control makes you feel disempowered, deskilled, controlled and angry (and they are not typical feelings for you in the rest of life) then there’s a very good chance that these are very familiar feelings for your child either in themselves or in the people that previously cared for them. If your child’s refusal to eat leaves you feeling rejected, despairing and hopeless (and these feelings are alien to you) then it is very possible that the experience of being parented and fed (both in the present and in the past) has left your child feeling those things too.

Therefore the emotions that you have in your relationship with your child can be used as crucial information about the feelings of your child, what their past emotional environment is likely to have been, what may be driving any difficulties and therefore what can be done to help them.

Understand how your evidence fits in the context of everybody else’s evidence.

Ask for feedback as to how your information fits with the rest of the evidence about the issue in hand. This should help you to understand the context of the discussions you’re having and either; why your suggestions are not being followed through or, if your evidence is still the most persuasive, provide a platform against which you can reassert your evidential conclusions.

Be confident about what you know but be ready to change your mind.

Absorb other evidence and make sense of it alongside your own. Other people’s evidence doesn’t alter yours but more information from more people can only create a clearer picture. You might find that, on hearing other people’s evidence, you develop a new opinion about what your evidence means (this is so much easier when you start to feel that you are being listened to).

Being confident with your evidence whilst being flexible will encourage others to do the same. Generally the more dogmatic people are the more defensive and entrenched the people around them will become.

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