are you worried about a child? find out who to talk to.

Commitment, like love, is not enough

Monday 4 June 2018

“If there is anything that children need from parents, even more than food and shelter, it is knowing that parents are committed to them” (Mary Dozier, This is My Child, 2005)

Our current practice, culture and systems in caring for children who are unable to live with their parents keeps them safe and allows them to survive, but for some a lack of true and enduring commitment from their alternative carers can still be devastating.

How does our current system of temporary foster or residential care make sense for children? Does it make any sense for the thousands of carers that want to provide and show enduring commitment, but feel unable to because of the emotional risk they would place themselves in- committing to a child who may not be able to remain with them?

gordons blog.jpg

I am not talking about any old commitment here. We are committed to many things, but the focus of that commitment can change. Depending when you catch me, my own commitment to certain tasks at work, getting along to watch my football team, or having one or two less beers on a Friday night can fluctuate. But, ask me about my sons and, given half the chance, I will express way too much delight in goals scored, school problems solved, running achievements or any and all other fascinating elements of their characters. For many children, such different degrees of that ready expression of joy and lifelong commitment to them is the norm.

Confusing and inconsistent

This is not a given for children in or on the edge of care. Their experience of parenting is likely to have been confusing, frightening or inconsistent, or neglectful. They may have had caring adults in their lives at different stages, but the overwhelming needs of their parents or carers may have made those relationships with them impossible to sustain.

The pathways taken into care may also have inadvertently broken some of those ties with their wider families, their brothers and sisters, friends, teachers or neighbours. The Care Inquiry in England in 2013 found the greatest failing of the care system is that it can break, rather than build, relationships for children.

Thinking of children as our own

So, it’s not just ordinary parenting or standard commitment children in care need. The type of commitment Mary Dozier is talking about in relation to young children in foster care is the extent to which carers’ expressed interest in enduring relationships with their foster children and the extent to which they thought of them as their own.

High levels of carer commitment are optimal for children’s development: this reduces the chance of placements breaking down and helps to protect children who have lost attachment figures from negative self-image. Children are more likely to develop an internal working model of themselves as loveable and worthy of care.

What carers need

Commitment, like love, is not enough. Skilled, therapeutic parenting is needed to help children recover from trauma and loss. Carers, regardless of their setting, need specialist training, active support, containment for their own needs, and excellent, readily available peer support to ensure children’s development and wellbeing. Practitioners and carers know this, but we’ve not yet delivered on all of this.

There are many examples and models of us progressing on this journey. There are also innovative steps towards strengthening existing commitments or growing new commitments from children’s own wider circles. Kinship work that is using family library searches and family group meetings in Scotland’s two biggest cities is showing promise.

Enduring commitment

It is worth stopping to ask why it is that, in spite of the built-in challenges to our current delivery of kinship care - poverty; overcrowding; lack of wider resources, training or peer support; emergency placements; carer ill health - many children cared for by their kin in high income countries fare as well, or better, in their health, education, social skills and stability of placement, as those looked after by non kin foster parents?

Could the more positive opinion children have of being placed with their kin, rather than in other care settings, be down to their sense of feeling loved and valued, and the enduring commitment from their relatives? Does this provide the precious ingredient for children that psychologist Michael Tarren-Sweeney describes as ‘felt permanence’?

I have no desire to elevate one type of care above another: what we need to strive for is the best possible version of care, regardless of the setting. We need to shape services and support our residential, kinship and foster carers in knowing the importance of, and expressing strongly, their enduring commitment to the child they are caring for, regardless of the challenge that the system presents.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

Commenting on the blog posts

Sharing comments and perspectives prompted by the posts on this blog are welcome. CELCIS operates a moderation process so your comment will not go live straight away.

Author: Gordon Main

COVID-19 – An opportunity to connect with time

Elaine Hamilton, Service Manager at Nether Johnstone House describes how lockdown due to the current emergency health crisis has changed the thinking, outlooks, and actions of both the young people and the team that surround them.

The power of love and support in extraordinary times

As we celebrate Foster Care Fortnight 2021, I want to say a huge thank you to the fostering community across Scotland. In spite of the huge challenges that the past year has thrown at everyone, foster carers have shown their unwavering commitment to providing warmth, love, and care to more than 4,700 children and young people across Scotland.

Securing better futures

October 8, 2020 marks a very important moment for children and young people who experience secure care. That’s because it’s the day that the Secure Care Pathway and Standards will be launched in Scotland’s five secure care centres, celebrating the hard work, creativity and passion that children put into helping to develop these. Paul Sullivan, Sector Engagement Lead at CELCIS, explains what this mean for the future of secure care in Scotland.

Please add a comment

Posted by Jane Wright on
As a foster carer I have given myself emotionally to every child who had come through our house. The problem was not the love and attunement we showed to the children but the reaction of the system to that loving care. I've often had to defend the criticsm that I was too emotionally attached and every time my answer has been the same 'if I wasn't emotionally involved they wouldn't have thrived'. It has personally had a huge impact on my own emotional wellbeing but that is the price for loving children who you ultimately have to move on. I am immensely proud of them all and would love to see a system where these relationships are protected.
Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Add Pingback

Contact us

University of Strathclyde, Curran Building, Level 6
94 Cathedral St, Glasgow G4 0LG
0141 444 8500

Sitemap | Accessibility | CookiesPrivacy notice

© 2019 CELCIS. All rights reserved.  

This website uses cookies to help improve your online experience.

By using this website you consent to the use of cookies and agree to the terms of our Cookie policyLearn more about how we use information in our Privacy notice.