"How sad it is that conscientious carers should be lost when there is such great need"
One family relates its experience of fostering
My wife and I have been fostering for the last seven or eight years. On applying to be approved we made it clear to the local authority, in writing, that in certain circumstances we would use corporal punishment, if necessary, as a means of training children in our care. We were not told they had any objections to this and indeed over the succeeding years we did, as appropriate, smack children with the knowledge of the social workers involved.
At one point this was queried by our link social worker but she was happy for us to continue using physical punishment (even though she said it was now against their policy) because she could see the results of the care we were giving and the way in which the children we cared for thrived.
A few years ago a crisis occurred when we fostered a boy through a different social worker who was most upset that we had used corporal punishment to discipline the boy she had placed with us. The child was in due course taken away from our care and we were required to give an undertaking not to smack the two other children, both girls, for whom we were caring on a long-term basis.
This was a particularly distressing time for us because the boy was very happy with us. He had begun to read - something that up to that point he had failed to achieve. Having been expelled from school, he had been exhibiting many undesirable forms of behaviour. These ceased when he came to live with us. He was making good progress which, in our experience, most children do when they are put into a loving family with definite and enforced boundaries.
We ourselves ceased to take on any new children very largely because we are no longer permitted the use of this very desirable sanction. We would not do as some carers, which is to smack children without the permission of the local authority. Another couple known to us who fostered for the same local authority also stopped when they were required to sign an undertaking not to use physical chastisement. They would not sign because they felt it was impractical to agree with this. This meant the loss of a well-respected resource to the agency. A woman I met on a vetting course expressed serious doubts when she learned of this ban. Whether she went on to successfully foster I do not know. I use the word `successful' because I believe that the inability to have this ultimate sanction leads to a breakdown of proper care and control which in turn leads to a termination of the placement, particularly as difficulties arise in relation to natural children.
To go no further than our own situation it was made very clear to us that if we were not prepared to accept the policy of no smacking, the two children who had been with us for over four years would have been taken away against their wishes and we would no longer be allowed to foster. This despite the fact that both children and the parents agreed with what we were doing. Also, the girls' social worker, although not in agreement with what we were doing, was aware of it and did not interfere in any way.
In our experience, social workers are by no means agreed on this issue and have a need to recruit good caring foster families while at the same time they are open to criticism if they deviate from agency policy. In our situation what was said to us privately was not in accord with official policy.
There is no doubt in my mind that good foster carers are not coming forward or cease fostering because of the almost impossible situation they are put in by not being allowed proper sanctions to train children who are often very difficult to handle. Clearly in our own case we were highly regarded by our local authority because (a) our contributions at training sessions were much appreciated, (b) we were asked to train other carers, and (c) I was asked to help set up and sit on the first fostering panel for the borough.
How sad it is that conscientious carers should be lost when there is such great need in our society. We are witnessing a collapse of discipline and respect for authority in our country. Many who would otherwise stand up for issues such as this do not do so because they are made to feel guilty and ashamed over common sense issues such as smacking by a few vociferous and uninformed people who are spearheading this decline. Surely it must be increasingly clear that the policies being pursued by many are tending to produce a generation that is anti-authority, uncaring and selfish. I do of course recognise that the other great feature that is often missing from family life is love. Some seem to think that love and discipline are mutually exclusive, but they are not and indeed should always go hand in hand.
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