10 Questions – Link Social Worker

10 Questions – Link Social Worker.

Michelle has been a Link Social Worker with FFI for almost five years having previously worked with Tusla – The Child and Family Agency. She was kind enough to sit down for a quick chat about the role of the Link Social Worker and also her own experience as a Foster Carer.

1) What attracted you to the social work profession?

Honestly, I don’t know, I often joke that I was a social worker before I knew what a social worker was!

I picked a college course that looked interesting and stuck at it until I found myself qualified as a social worker. I was then lucky enough to be offered a job in child protection on a team of people who I learned so much from in terms of how to do the job well but also how to balance it with having my own life outside of work. Learning the importance of looking after myself has kept me here and still enjoying the work.

2) What made you want to work for an agency like FFI?

After a number of years working with children at risk in the community and children in care I developed an interest in fostering, I could see that the care and dedication foster carers give to the children can turn a child’s life around more than any social worker, therapist etc. I also saw how big a task it is and how much foster carers can benefit in doing their job with the right type of support.

I had some knowledge of FFI as a child protection social worker looking for foster placements, I liked the work FFI did with foster carers and the outcomes for the children. So I was delighted when I read they had a vacancy in my area and applied with haste!

3) What are the biggest differences between working for a private agency like FFI as opposed to Tusla?

Tough question! I really enjoyed the 7 years I worked in Tusla or HSE as it was then. I started there on placement as a student and began working there then as soon as I qualified. I cut my teeth as a new social worker there, I learned so much about children, families and social work that I will keep with me always.

Child protection is crisis driven work, when I left I was at a point where I wanted to focus on doing more in depth work in an area I felt passionate about. Working with FFI has given me so many opportunities to develop my own skills as a social worker. I have built solid relationships with the foster carers I have worked with and had the pleasure of being a part of their development. I have seen children thriving in warm caring homes, children who were very distressed and lost when first placed.

There is very much a family feel to working at FFI amongst staff, carers and children – everybody works together, everyone has a voice and will be listened to. Everyone supports each other through the tough times and celebrate successes big and small together too.

4) What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

The people, to be surrounded by people who feel so strongly about giving children the best chance in life really is the best part. Despite the challenges, the hard times and sad realities we work with everyday there is a positivity and a ‘let’s help’ attitude. We share the happy stories, big and small and these keep us all going.

5) What have you found most difficult about the role?

There are tough times, there wouldn’t be a need for social workers or foster carers if life was not challenging. Having to accept that life is hard and sad for some children, knowing we can’t always do enough to change that, never sits easy in the mind.

Social Workers are ‘fixers’, we want to make everything ok for everyone all the time. Sometimes we can’t please all or anyone… that’s not a nice place to be.

6) In your opinion what is the biggest support that a Link Social Worker can offer to a Foster Carer?

Availability, understanding and honesty.

Fostering is like nothing else, no job nor parenting of your own children can compare or fully prepare you for it. I want my carers to feel they can trust me with their worries and areas they are struggling with, I won’t judge but I will support them to do better the next time and give honest feedback respectfully even when it is hard to hear.

7) As well as being a Link Social Worker, you are also a Foster Carer yourself. Can you tell us what you needed to consider before making that decision?

I already was a social worker, but it obviously wasn’t fulfilling enough.

It felt a very natural step to take. As I said above I didn’t know I wanted to be a social worker growing up, I just saw that there were problems all around if we open our eyes and felt I could do something useful.  The older I got the more I realised that I wasn’t going to save the world but maybe could do something to help somebody. Luckily my husband felt as strongly as me about it, we had met in college so have very similar values and outlooks on life.

We had the advantage of having an insider view of what could be ahead, challenges and possible positive outcomes. We understood the systems that dictate the lives of children in care and the standard of care foster carers have to provide.

Yes we had rose tinted glasses like every new foster carer and also have had some very tough times. But as foster carers we accept life won’t always be easy, life won’t always go to plan but with perseverance the outcome can be positive.

I often remind myself ‘everything will be alright in the end, if it is not alright, it is not the end’.

8) What for you is the most rewarding part of being a Foster Carer?

All the small things, seeing their little heads fast asleep on their pillows at night time, knowing that they are warm, healthy and dreaming nice dreams. Watching them running free and laughing as children should. Feeling them reach for your hand in a nervous situation. Seeing them as they proudly learn to colour inside the lines and finish a jigsaw skills they may not have have had the opportunities to learn.

All the things we take for granted are so extra precious to children whose childhoods are not carefree.

9) In your opinion what are the most common misconceptions about Fostering?

That people think foster carers are saints or have some magical quality preventing them being hurt too at some stage. Most foster carers I know cringe when we are told ‘I couldn’t do it’ or ‘I would get too attached, it would hurt me too much to let them go’.

Well, some days we foster carers do feel we can’t do it, and yes we get attached, yes we get hurt but we do it anyway because it hurts more to know there are children who need care but have no one to give it to them.

10) Finally, what advice would you give to anyone out there thinking about becoming a Foster Carer?

Take the first step. Don’t give up.

I read somewhere that we don’t always get what we ask for in life, sometimes, we get something better.

If you are interested in fostering or would just like some further information, call us 01-4171944.

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