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Name: Vivian Gibson
Job title: Placement support worker.
Employer: Community Foster Care, a not-for-profit, independent foster care agency based at Peart Road, Workington. The organisation also has offices in Lancaster and Gloucestershire.
Where are you from? Workington.
Where do you live now? Workington.
Where do you work? Community Foster Care Offices in Workington.
How long have you done this job? Since May.
Take us through a typical day:
Each day is different and never dull. I leave home at 8.55am by car and reach the office at about 9am. Sometimes the day will be spent in the office. There are times when the phone doesn’t stop ringing – it could be a local authority ringing to find out if we have carers who might be able to look after a child as an emergency placement, or sometimes our carers need help and guidance with a particular child. It’s really important that there is always someone ready to listen when they need it.
Once a month Community Foster Care runs a support group. That’s when we meet our team of wonderful foster carers and talk through how things are going over a coffee. Sometimes we invite a speaker and there can also be a training element in anything from internet safety, children missing from home, child sexual exploitation and so on.
We’re a not-for-profit, independent agency which is one of the reasons we are able to offer as much support as possible to our carers and to the cared-for children we place with them. Training is an important part of that.
I am also in the process of organising a fun/charity night in October for carers, staff and friends in the community.
Placement support workers make regular visits to the carers and children to make sure they’re all doing okay. Our carers are spread all over Cumbria so that means I’m out on the road quite a lot. In the school holidays, Community Foster Care organises activity days out for the children, their carers and the carers’ birth children. Everybody mucks in and it’s a great way for all the carers and staff to get to know each other.
What do you like most about the job?
I’ve been so impressed with how thoughtful and caring both the staff and carers have been and how welcoming. There is such a family feel to the organisation: everyone is very supportive and helpful to one another.
The other good part of my job is that no two days are ever alike. I’m allowed to get really creative when it comes to arranging activity days with the children. My experience of many years’ working with local authorities is equally valued when it comes to the more strategic side of my job.
Whatever I’m doing, I always feel part of a bigger team who are all trying to make a difference for the children who come into the care system through no fault of their own.
What do you like least?
Sometimes it’s frustrating when there are not enough foster carers to accommodate the number of children and young people who need a home. There are more than 600 children in Cumbria in need of a foster home and that number keeps rising. At the same time, the number of foster carers isn’t keeping up. If anyone out there has ever considered fostering, I’d really urge them to come forward.
People often think they can’t foster, but so long as you’re over 25 and generally in good health, you can. There’s lots of training and help to get you going, and plenty of support along the way.
The other upsetting thing is seeing children and young people in distress. Children come into care through no fault of their own and what they want is stability, safety and someone who will try to understand them. When you’re five years old, it’s difficult to understand why those things most of us take for granted aren’t there.
Why did you want to do this job?
Because I care about the children and families I work with and want to support them in feeling safe, happy and well cared for. My job is to make sure a young person’s needs are all met and that they get all the help we can provide to find real personal growth and development – enough so they can make their own way in the world.
What jobs have you done previously?
I worked as a child and family support worker in several departments with Cumbria County Council for 14 years. That meant doing similar tasks to those I’m now involved with at Community Foster Care but on a bigger scale: ie, working directly with children, supervising contacts, preparing parenting assessments, supporting families, being involved in the young people’s council, taking children on trips and residential breaks.
What qualifications or experience do you need?
Childcare qualifications such as an NVQ in Health and Social Care or Nursery Nursing Diploma, counselling skills, and a good understanding of attachment and loss. More important is the ability to listen actively to young people and families, and to engage appropriately with their life experiences and understand their views without making judgements.
What is a typical salary for this job?
£21,000 to £26,000 depending on qualifications and experience.
Any advice for people wanting to get into your profession?
Working with children in care can at times be challenging, distressing, difficult and emotionally draining. But at the same time it is very rewarding. I have learnt, and continue to learn from the people I work with, that it’s important, when getting to know and understand people who lead complex lives, that you have time and patience as well as the resilience to take on board the emotional difficulties of others.