Frustrated carers during times of uncertainty & finding common ground

I have been writing this blog from a space of intention. My intention has been to spread messages of a ‘system’ that is working at its best. And when it is working well, it’s a wonderful thing! But the truth of the child welfare system is that it is complex, confusing & confounding at times as well.

So this post is written with the intention of acknowledging this complexity from the carers point of view. Carer/s who open their home and heart to support vulnerable children but are also concurrently opening their lives up to a frustrating and stressful journey at times.

When carers care for a child or children who have recently entered care (or a parent has later asked to be considered for restoration), the carer is also flung into the legal system which makes determinations about permanency. This is a time of uncertainty for everyone (children, parent/s and carers alike) and is often a period of heightened stress as a result.

Whilst in the past Australian child welfare agencies have ‘removed’ children at alarming rates instead of working with families to keep children safe at home, there is now a concerted effort when children do enter care, to aim to first keep them at home and then, when they enter care, to get children back home. Of course, where possible and safe, this is always the better option for children as the evidence clearly states children with family and out of the system are fairing better.

At the same time, carers are ‘recruited’ to care for children and whilst in the past there was a strong message that children would remain in ‘long term care’ with the carers, now the expectation is that carers provide a safe home, ensure a child is well connected to family, ideally support the parent/s for children to go home, but also be prepared to have a child as part of their forever family (just in case restoration is not possible).

Another issue for carers which is understandably frustrating is when an agency assures the carer/s that a child or the children will absolutely be staying in care and carers say ‘yes’ to caring for the child/ren. Months to years pass and then a carer learns that a parent is asking for restoration and again, a process of determining what is in the best interest of a child occurs through the court.

There are other scenarios which lead to frustrations but I want to focus on these two areas as they are quite prevalent right now.

I am an avid supporter of restoration whenever a parent or parents are able to make and sustain the changes required to support their child/ren to go home and remain emotionally and physically safe.

In my own professional role, I work hard to strike a balance when understanding the human impacts of our work. I am balancing the views of the carer/s who are invested in children they have accepted into their care as well as the perspective of the parents that are trying to get their children back home (I hear of incredibly inspiring stories of parents that transform their own lives to support their child/ren to come home and other incredibly sad stories of parent/s that no matter what support is provided, just struggle to understand how past actions have put their children at risk and they cannot or will not make change).  What is most important is of course what is in the best interest of the child that is loved by both parent & carers and all significant others. The common ground for the adults around a child in care is they all truly care about the child and want what they see as best for the child.

I have been able to provide some level of support to carers during this time and can see the strain it puts on individuals and families.

My own experience as a carer included a court challenge which meant we went from being assured of a ‘long term’ plan to one where there was a prolonged court period where the legal system determined who CC will live with. It was stressful. For everyone. We were all assessed by a clinician and being put under the microscope can be challenging (and triggering). In the end CC stayed with us but it was just as stressful for the family that fought that decision. We all felt disempowered while the decision was made. There was of course grief and loss for the family. It could have been us but in our instance, it wasn’t.  

Carers respond differently to this level of uncertainty.

  • Some carers give up.
  • Some can see the power of working with family to support connection and restoration.
  • Some paternal families are working hard to include maternal families & other times there are efforts to exclude. And vice versa.
  • Some carers never give up.
  • Some carers are stretched to breaking point.
  • Some carers makes complaints.
  • Some carers blame the children.

Most carers muddle through as best they can but there is often a cost.

At the risk of sounding very impersonal – carers are an absolutely critical part of a pipeline. Carers fill a very important gap when it comes to vulnerable children. Carers are a safe haven. Carers provide a home for children who are terrified, confused, angry or numb. Carers are caring for children in care because they want to help.

So this post is not to provide any solutions.

Rather it is to acknowledge you opt into the voluntary role of caring and often experience frustration for various reasons.

Whether you are already family, friends or strangers to a child or children, you open your hearts and homes during periods of uncertainty.

Thank you for caring and for persevering as carers.

Note – I will be posting soon about the parent and child perspective.

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