The complexities of professional networking

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I have been thinking about professional networks and the importance of relationships. In my regular therapeutic support sessions with fosters carers I have noticed what seems to be a theme of frustration in the interface with children’s social workers and I suspect this goes both ways. Carers often report feeling undermined or lacking support and there can be a hope that the social worker will take the carers ‘side’. It seems to be difficult to maintain ‘power with’ relationships and to be open to the complexities of the children who are cared for and the impact on each of us as individuals and consequently the network of relationships.

These difficulties are complex, there are structural issues in terms of the position of foster carers and whether they are viewed as professionals in their role which is my position but has always lacked clarity. This is reinforced by the fact that more foster carers are women and even where there is a male/female couple it is in my experience usually the woman who is taking the lead in the caring and liaison role. As a society we do not privilege female voices particularly those in the domestic arena which may be why being a carer is often not seen as compatible with being a professional, this is a social construct not a reality. In speaking with a very bright and able carer recently our conversation explored that it seemed that social services wanted and needed a bright, strong and able carer for two very challenging children, but they did not want those same capabilities and strength brought to the professional network, that the carer felt what was wanted in that space was someone who was quiet, acquiescent, pliable and this is a troubling paradox. There is also the issue with private agencies that there can be a perception that something is being paid for so this can implicitly be felt to place a duty on the carer to fulfil expectations often when they have not been negotiated together as practical and the best fit for all.

Beyond structural issues some of the things that our children struggle with such as splitting things into good or bad, can lead to a tendency to think and there is a right or wrong side or point of view relating to what I said earlier about carers hoping that a social worker might take their ‘side’. Holding on to the complexities of a situation where everyone probably has something useful to offer but where no one is correct can feel messy and confusing and wanting to find a safe-haven of certainty is very tempting. I think only when we can move to a position of seeing each other as frail and flawed beings meeting at a place of connection through everyone’s wish to care and consider each other’s needs and position will a real meeting of hearts and minds occur. It is easy to locate all the difficulties of a complex network with one person or group whether that be social workers, foster children or foster carers. We are all struggling, this is very difficult work and we need to look to relate together from a position of openness and equality.

Dr Jane Herd is a national and international speaker, writer and consultant. She offers individual and organisational consultation in respect of personal and professional development, reflective spaces, and managing stress and challenge jane@orb8.org

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