Time to ditch the orphan Annie narrative in fostering
Author: Sarah Anderson FosterWiki Founder
Time to ditch the orphan Annie narrative in fostering. Why modern foster carers are more than spare room and a big heart.
It makes me so angry when I see the adverts ‘Have you got a spare room and a big heart?’ That’s all you need to be a foster carer, they say. To me, this statement is like saying all you need to be a lawyer is to be good at arguing and have a spare briefcase.
It reduces a complex skilled job to an altruistic volunteering one, and at the same time is instantly reductive to the critical and multifaceted role of the modern foster carer. Maybe this is why they are failing to recruit and retain in today’s social and economic landscape, and why fostering is in crisis. After all, no foster carers, no foster care.
Many years ago I coined the phrase ‘The orphan Annie syndrome’ borne out of the perpetual fantasy narrative of how the public sees fostering and how it is portrayed to them. Little orphan Annie turns up on the doorstep with her pink suitcase and golden ringlets and we all live happily ever after.
Sometimes it feels like we just can’t win, it’s either this version or watching ourselves portrayed on TV and film, more often than not, as callous money-grabbing child abusers. With our children and young people having endured ‘the foster care system’ and ‘in and out of foster care’ ending up violent perpetrators populating the criminal justice system.
In the public eye, we are either saints or sinners, nothing in between, and nothing resembling reality at either end of the scale.
So what is our actual reality? What is the genuine narrative of the modern foster carer? It is one of the skilled, qualified professionals, nurturing and caring for a child in a family setting.
We attend meetings, prepare reports, keep meticulous records, and liaise with a large team of other professionals around the child. We attend to our children’s education, and physical and mental health needs and work closely with the children’s own families, facilitating contact and often instrumental in reunification.
We are trained in attachment, and many of us are trauma-informed carrying out therapeutic practice working with a wide spectrum of issues. We are required to register as a self-employed business, pay taxes and do our accounts. We are regularly subjected to disciplinary procedures and have to abide by a plethora of policies and statutory legislation that underpin our role. It is also, more often than not, a full-time job.
Some say we will never be seen as professionals as that would change the nature of what we do. Well, I’ve got news for everyone, that ship has well and truly sailed, we are already required to be professionals, and required to do a skilled job including all of the above. So I ask you this question, has it detracted from us loving and nurturing a child in a family setting? No, it has enhanced it, our children deserve us to be equipped to look after them in more ways than one.
Perpetuating the orphan Annie myth is no longer a viable excuse to deny us rights, protection and recognition. Neither is this account helpful for our children and young people. There are many positive narratives surrounding fostering and those are the ones we need to get out to the public and industry. One thing is for sure, we are way more than a spare room and a big heart.
It’s time to allow us to do our jobs, contribute to change and influence our own industry for the future of our children and young people.