Case study of fostering team in nuneaton

The background to your involvement I am currently on placement with the fostering team in Nuneaton which has in excess of seventy five carers in and around the Nuneaton/Bedworth area. The fostering team consists of 4 full time social workers, whose role encompasses assessment work along with supervisory responsibility of foster carers in line with the Department for Children, Schools and Families ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ March 2010 which “sets out how organisations and individuals should work together to save and promote the welfare of children and young people in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004” ( (DCSF, March 2010) and to identify placements for children being accommodated under various sections of the Children Act 1989.

While on placement I shadowed a social worker involved in supporting 14 yr old Philip’s foster carers to deal with particular behavioural issues that had led to his placement breaking down. The foster carers have 3 foster children currently in their care, Phillip 14, James 15 and David 16. The 2 foster carers Mike 49 and Jane 46 live in a 4 bedroom house in Hinckley. Philip had left the house and was refusing to return, stating that his foster carers did not like him and that he wanted to live on his own. Bed and breakfast accommodation was arranged for him for a few days while the situation was re-assessed and a meeting with the foster carers arranged. Fundamental to all relationships and particularly the interaction between Philip and his mother, Philip and his foster carers and social worker and foster carers, communication is a central component. Analysing how effective communication plays a vital part in this client’s circumstances will form the basis of this discussion.

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Good communication skills are a principle component of effective social work practice. They include active, attentive and empathetic listening, recognition of verbal and non verbal communication and general formal and informal interview techniques, as Payne has suggested, the application of communication theory gives “practical help in controlling and understanding relationships and interactions with clients and a technology of interviewing and interpersonal skills” (Payne, 2005, pg 178). Over recent year the children looked after by foster carers have included an increasing proportion of distressed adolescences along with the disruption rate for these placements as being high (Farmer et al 2003). One of the aims of the fostering social worker is to conduct detailed assessments of parenting approaches and strategies used by the foster carers looking after a teenager in a long term placement and how these strategies can change and develop during the course of the placement.

Research has been conducted into fostering task with adolescents by Farmer et al (2004), found that they were concerns about the behaviour and well being of children when they move into a new placements. The findings in this case study highlighted a number of factors that contributed to the breakdown in the relationship with the foster carers and Philip and finally the placement. In this situation I had found out the Philip’s social worker had not communicated the nature and context of behavioural issues associated with him to the foster carer’s social worker so that foster carers could have been better informed.

Following the placement breakdown the foster carers had reflected on their own lack of knowledge and experience at dealing with young people with behavioural problems had highlighted the need for specific training in this area for foster carers.

Part 2

Using the material from part 1, critically analyse the challenges in ensuring good practice in communicating with this service user/s or carer/s

What theory underpins your interaction?

Modern social work theory incorporates social psychology and social construction theory to understand the way groups in society relate to each other and create and maintain social identities. Social psychology has influenced social work practice specifically with concepts from role theory and communication theory. Role theory offers a viewpoint in sociology and also within social psychology that includes most of everyday activities to be the acted out of socially defined categories such as mother, supervisor, and lecturer. Each defining social role comes with a set of rights, duties, expectations, norms and behaviour a person has to be able to fulfill. Communication theory uses a range of concepts from the scientific to the humanistic, to help us understand how people conduct themselves in creating, exchanging and interpreting messages (Farrell, 1987). These concepts help us to understand patterns of language and identify ” how people construct their social world….helping them to reconstruct the world by using language differently to identify possibilities for change” (Payne, 2005, pg 161).

Communication theory is concerned with a range of ideas that can explain how individuals, groups and organisations communicate with each other. Linguistically, in the form of the spoken and written word and other mediums, and non verbal forms, such as body language and the way we speak, including tone, pitch, intonation and speed. Communication is more than the mere transmission of facts, as has been suggested “information might be facts, or other things that might be learned, such as emotions, memories, bodily sensations or an idea about how someone feels about you” (Payne, 2005, pg 171 or 178) and furthermore that “language informs the way we think, the way we experience, and the way we interact with each other. Language provides the basis of community, but also the grounds for division” (Thompson 2003:36)

This suggests that communication networks are inextricably linked to social identity, ethnicity, culture and class. As Payne suggests, “networks of communication build up and how we communicate and with whom, becomes part of our culture and social relations, for example, ethnic and class division are marked by separation in communication networks” and “patterns of communication often express power, domination and subordination. Communication may, therefore, help us to identify oppression and inequality” (Payne, 2005, pg 171). If we use language, along with the capacity to communicate, to form our lives and to relate to others, then social workers need to be sensitively aware how their choice of words and mode of communication in intensely personal and emotional charged situations, can increase and decrease oppression in their interactions with young people. For example, use of professional jargon without explanation may alienate a client by creating a language barrier between social worker and the service user or carer.

Where a child is suspected of being in need of protection the social worker must balance the needs of the young persons safety along with the potential of breaking up the family. The social worker that I shadowed believed that the needs of young people in foster care could be met through meaningful, consistent and positive relationships with the foster carer whilst on the other hand you have child care policy which is primarily about safeguarding, outcomes and accountability.

A crucial time for young people spans 12-19 years, this is when they ask themselves: Who am I? Where do I want to be? During this period they are also concerned with how they appear to others and what groups and networks they identify with. Erikson terms this psychosocial stage as the Identity versus Role Confusion period (Beckett, 2002 ).

Attachment theory

“Attachment theory offers an understanding of personality development and behaviour in close relationships and provides an account of the difference in people’s emotional and relationship styles”. (Howe, 2000). John Bowlby is considered to the psychiatrist that developed the attachment theory. Bolwby suggests that when children are separated from their parents or care giver they suffer loss because of the attachment between them. I can see how Philip may have felt when he thought the he had to leave his home for a second time having already lost the home of his birth mother, it is thought by the social worker and the foster carers that one of the reason that Philip does not want to return is because he does not want to suffer loss again. This has had an obvious affect of Philip’s behaviour, the tenets of this theory is that close relationships or attachments have a direct effect on the emotional and social development across a lifespan (Howe 2000).

Avoidant Attachments

Howe (2009) describes avoidant attachments as children and young people whom display avoidant attachments as having parent(s) that are either indifferent whom have their own trauma going on or are emotionally rigid or completely rejecting of their child’s needs. Although parents will react well when their child is happy and content that soon changes when the child needs change for instance when their child is in distress and is need of comfort. Howe suggest that “attempts at intimacy only seem to increase parental distance, even rebuff”, this communicating to the child that they are not wanted.

Attachment to home and a safe place is a primary ways in which people preserve self-identity. “the way in which people identify and become attached to places, buildings, objects, and how this attachment can contribute to personal well-being or how we feel about ourselves (Low et al 1992). To look at why these places, building and objects become important provides us with insight into what happens when people have to move and the dilemmas that they may face. Attachment is an emotional relationship that provides reliability, continuity, care and comfort. John Bowlby writes in his research relating to the concept of attachment, describing it as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). Bowlby held the psychoanalytic view that early years experiences of a child has an important propensity toward development and behaviour later in life, most attachment styles are formed in the early years of childhood developed through the relationship with the care-giver.

Mary Ainsworth during the 1970’s built on the work of Bowlby’s work in her study called “Strange situations” which looked at children where they were left alone for a short period of time then quickly comforted by the care giver/mother (Ainsworth, 1978). These help her to formulate the attachment classification system, which examine specific differences in a child’s use of attachment figures as a constant and reliable base from which they can then explore the environment. Change requires personal adjustment, and some change can be more stressful than others. When facing a move fears of adjustment and a change in familiar environment and living conditions can be seen as a major problem for young people. Philip was reluctant to move out of the area that he lived at with his foster carers, he felt that if he had to move to supported lodging that it would be in an are where he has had problems in the past.

Care Management involves assessing needs and keeping a watchful eye over a number of services that are provided by workers other than the social worker, the role of care manager is not new to social work and has existed for many years, historically the social worker would arrange a package of care, seek the views of the service user, engage with other professionals when collecting information relevant to the care package following that there would be an assessment then the social worker would engage appropriate services that met the need of the service user.

Discrimination ,Inequality and oppression, Separation and Loss
Solution focused (brief) theory

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)is based on solution-building rather than problem-solving. SFBT explores the here and now and planned aspirations opposed to solving the current problems this method of working with young people can be practiced as well as other interventions.

The theoretical underpinnings of solution-focused brief therapy have been developed out of philosophy as well as an appreciation of communicating positive outcomes through a creative process. Primary because the focus of this intervention is on future goals set by the young person, more importantly because with this method of intervention shows that problems are not limited by boundaries therefore neither the social worker (and other professionals) cannot be wrong the tends to lead to agreements being forged. This had been found to help build the relationship with David so that he felt that he was being heard through his verbal and non verbal communication. However whilst there is not a grounded understanding that identify the nature of the problem SFBT it creates problems in being able to measure efficacy. In this instance SFBT was used to build confidence, trust and capacity with David so that he would be prepared for his future with the current foster carers.

Task centred practice

Task Centred social work provides a clear framework for professional intervention, it deal with current (here and now) problems. It focuses on the problem and tries to negotiate and agree a method of dealing with the problem by identifying goals and setting timescales.

There are 2 primary components of this approach which are


Crisis intervention theories
Outcomes Led Approach
Child development

Children do not have the same language skills or the emotional development of adults and therefore their attachment anxieties are triggered stopping them expressing themselves verbally and producing dysfunctional or attachment behaviours. Attachment behaviours can include minimising expressions of distress, that is the child knows that when their parent is shouting at them and the child is distressed this results in further parental rejection, so the child learns to minimise expressions of distress. The child acts happy even when frighten. In contrast the child express graet distress, especially when a parent is about to leave a type of attention seeking behaviour is communicating but not saying verbally “show me you love me”.

Parenting a teenager in foster care can be vastly different from the ordinary parenting a birth child that is now a teenager. With the foster child there need to be a recognition and understanding of the young person background along with any previous placement breakdowns whether there are any disturbed and difficult behaviours. Foster carers must assist in adjusting the young person’s defence mechanisms, developing attachments with the foster family whilst wherever possible maintaining links with the birth family. The foster carers felt that due to a recent argument with Philips birth mother he felt that no one liked him as his birth mother had chastised him for his language toward her.

What skills are necessary?

Report writing in accordance to the BAAF standards, work load and time management.

Correspondence and record keeping

Empathy is a dominant concept within social work. Recieving empathy enhances a clients feeling of self worth by communicating to them that they are understandable and are worth understanding. A social workers verbal and non verbal responses are crucial to communicating to the client they are being understood and entails skills “to filter out and feedback themes and core messages in the client communication”( )

Communications skills are essential in effectictive social work practice throughout the stages of assessment, planning, intervention and review. Questioning skills need to be employed to gain greater clarification concerning extremely personal issues and to constructively challemge client to recognised their responsibilities. For example, in the assessment process the accuracy of information is vital. However, the nature of this information is often sensitive and loaded with emotion and feeling from the past. If foster carers and young people are able to share this type of information they need to be convinced that there are being understood.

What knowledge is required?

In my interaction with service users and specifically in this case service providers (foster carers) human development theory influences my approach and form of communication.

What techniques are appropriate?

Interview – formal and informal



From my learning perspective, this case study highlights the complexities associated with working with children with behavioural issues. It was an opportunity to examine how social work can and does address thiese issues through the legislative and policy frameworks, along with our own knowledge and experience as well as the values and ethics set out in the National Occupational Standards.

Your analysis should also include reflection on your skills and learning needs
(500 words including 500 word description of an interaction with a service user)


Department of Children, Schools and Families (2010) Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Interagency Working ToSafeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children Nottingham: DCSF Publications.

Thompson, N. (2003) Communication and Language: A Handbook of Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Low, S, & Altman, I. (1992) ‘Place attachment: a conceptual inquiry’ in Altman, I. and Low, S.M. (eds) Place Attachment, New York: Plenum Press.

Thompson, N. (2005) Understanding Social Work, Preparation for Practice- Second edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Department of Health (1991). Care Management and Assessment: a Practioners Guide. London: HMSO.

Howe, D. (2000) ‘Attachment Theory’. In Davies, M. (ed). The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social Work. Oxford: Blackwell (pp 25-27).

Howe, D. (1995) Attachment Theory for Social Work Practice. New York: Palgrave.

Farmer,E.,Moyes,S.,Lipscombe,J, (2004) ‘Fostering Adolescents’ Jessica Kingsley: London

Farmer,E,. Moyers,M,(2003) Parenting skills adolescents: Skills and starategies, London School for policy Studies, University of Bristol: Bristol

Care Management

Care management is gathering information and seeking out how needs can be best met whilst enabling the service user to access services required, it also monitors service delivery ensuring that their services are continuing to meet the identified needs. The relationship between social worker and carer is a continually developing one whereby the negotiating with other professionals and giving and receiving information, this is all done in a non judgemental way enabling the carer to also develop their own skills of negotiating. I this case the carer was concerned with achieving a form of agreement or understanding as to the amount of foster children she could have at her home.

It is important not to make the carer feel that care management is all about ticking boxes and ensuring that the correct piece of paper have been completed, if this where the case then there would not be the need for social work skills when manage care packages.

Characteristics of Attachment

“Bowlby held that there were four characteristics of attachment:

Proximity Maintenance – The desire to be near the people we are attached to.

Safe Haven – Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.

Secure Base – The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.

Separation Distress – Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure”. (Bowlby, 1969).

Care Management, ” involves overseeing the provision of a package of care services geared toward maintaining someone in the community who would otherwise need to rely on institutional provision” (Thompson 2005 p69). Good care management encompasses a macro overview when completing the assessment, it should be completed in partnership with the service user and family paying regard to the strength and weaknesses as well as their ability to look at their life history and communicate the reason they find themselves in the current situation. Care Management is defined in government guidance as ” the process of tailoring services to individual needs” (DOH, 1991:b).

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