Therapeutic fostering: Q and A

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Mica Douglas is a social worker and psychotherapist and has recently completed a PhD in therapeutic fostering. She is the managing director at Flourish Fostering and is a primary tutor on the Certificate in Therapeutic Fostering and MA in Therapeutic Fostering and Adoption at the Metanoia institute and Middlesex University. The two courses are now being revamped and renamed Relational Fostering to reflect the key learning from Mica's research about the importance of the quality of the relationship between foster family and fostered child.
 
We caught up with Mica for a Q and A…
What was it about therapeutic fostering in particular that captured your interest?
Many children and young people coming into the care system have a number of special needs and therapeutic fostering seemed to me to be the best way of working with those needs. As a social worker and a psychotherapist, I could see how that blend of skills could develop something that was much needed and rather special in fostering. I believe that therapeutic fostering is a specialist role that should be professionalised through qualifications and appropriate levels of pay. Both of these courses are ground-breaking in that they give a university recognised qualification to the work that foster parents do.
 
Can you tell me about your recent academic paper?
That was such a thrill as it is the first paper to come out of research I have been doing with foster parents. It was about how successful foster parents are forced to adapt their parenting style when they foster. Foster parents often have no blueprint for parenting a child that is not attached to them or is presenting with behavioural issues that seem out of the ballpark. How far they can adapt their parenting style often links to success with that child. Most of the behaviour displayed by foster children is normal and natural for a particular age and stage of development and often it is about thinking what is the emotional age of this child (rather than the actual age) and acting accordingly.
 
I am currently writing a doctoral thesis having interviewed foster parents about their experience of training in therapeutic fostering. I wanted their voices to be heard and to see if their training made any difference to their relationship with themselves, the children they were looking after and the professional network around the child. There are some wonderful stories that have come out of the research and I hope to be publishing more articles as a result and maybe speaking at a couple of conferences.
 
What have you learned from your work on therapeutic fostering and what have been the successes?
The biggest successes for me have been the Certificate in Therapeutic Fostering and MA in Theraputic Fostering and Adoption and the opportunity to facilitate learning experiences that have been profound and sometimes life-changing (according to the research) for some foster parents and social workers. I have also learned that people all over the world are hungry for this information. A few years ago I spoke at the International Fostering Conference in New Zealand and was quite shocked that people did not have any equivalent of this kind of training and that foster parents were not even paid in some countries.
 
From your perspective what are the key aspects to focus on for promoting improvement in fostering?
Finding the key to placement stability is a critical factor for children and young people. Anecdotally, through the research, foster parents told me that therapeutic training helped them to hold onto children they would have previously given notice on. The next step is to have the training evaluated to find out more about that aspect. I am very curious about why we never give an award to someone who has looked after a child consistently for eight, 10 or 12 years; to my mind that is an achievement that needs recognition.
 
One other small change that I think is vital, is for foster parents everywhere is to have more recognition in the team around the child. They live with the child 24/7 and know them better than the independent reviewing officer, social worker or teacher. That is not always recognised and some foster parents are still not even invited to meetings about the child, it saddens me when I hear stories like that. 
 
What would you like to achieve with your work?
To gain more recognition for the work that foster parents do and have a national debate about professionalising fostering. There are pros and cons to the latter and it is easy to dismiss the idea, but which of us would take a child to an unqualified dentist, doctor, or childminder…let the conversation begin.
 
Mica can be contacted at mica@flourishfostering.co.uk