TLC: Understanding the Matching Process
11 October 2023
11 October 2023
For me, matching has always been so much more than a vacant bed and a young person in need of a home. Matching has layers, there is the surface level matching of having similar interests but for me, I want to explore the deeper layers of matching as this is where good matches and successful long-term placements are made.
Before I can begin to match a young person with a family, I must feel that I know my carer, their household members, their routines, what they do for fun but also what experiences have they had in their own lives and how they manage those – how are they still here today, still fighting and wanting to support others. From recognising my carers' strengths and their vulnerabilities I am then able to establish who the right match for that carer may be. I want every young person that I place within a family to be the best possible match.
I often feel for children in care, who have every wrong move, every bad thing that ever happened to them recorded and this then follows them around via a referral document.
That leads me to match a young person with my carers – for me, a referral* for a young person is nothing more than an introduction to them. I often feel for children in care, who have every wrong move, every bad thing that ever happened to them recorded and this then follows them around via a referral document. A document that is not always completed by someone who knows the child, a document that is often so focused on capturing the risks and the negatives that they forget to include anything positive about the young person’s character, the things they can do; their hobbies, achievements, and their successes.
I want that young person to come alive, to no longer be a list of risks but to become a young person who has displayed these behaviours and for me to understand why.
What a referral document allows me to do, is determine if there is potential that this young person could be a match for my carers. Once I have found a young person who I think could be a match, I then make it my mission to learn just as much about that young person as I did about my carers. I want that young person to come alive, to no longer be a list of risks but for them to become a young person who has displayed these behaviours and for me to understand why. Context is something that is so often missed within those documents – it is no wonder so many shy away from fostering teens as they think they are ‘aggressive’ and ‘angry’. Many of our young people did what they did and behaved the way they did to survive, to survive situations that many could never imagine.
I will consider all the ways the match may go wrong.
Once I have gathered further information and I am still satisfied that I have found an appropriate match, I will then approach my carer. I will provide them with not only that referral, but also the further information that I have gathered, the information and context that makes so many of those behaviours make sense. I will also consider all the ways the match may go wrong – that may sound bizarre as TLC is a strengths-based model but by thinking like this I can put strategies in place, allocate further training, identify another carer who has experience with a certain behaviour and request additional support. I want my carers to feel prepared to manage the behaviours a young person displays and for them to know what that may look like at its worst. What is it they say? Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.
In May 2022 I met a wonderful couple that were in assessment called Adam and Tim. Adam and Tim had heard about TLC and had indicated that this would be the type of fostering that they would like to consider so we had a matching meeting to allow me to get to know them both, to learn about their highs and lows, to find out what brought them to want to foster and what makes them tick. Adam and Tim shared that they wanted to care for a young person who was of primary school age as this is an age group Adam in particular had experience in.
Armed with further information I was in no doubt that this young man needed to live with Adam and Tim.
Not long after Adam and Tim had been approved as carers, I read a referral for a soon-to-be 13-year-old boy. At first glance from his referral, he could easily have been written off as an angry teen. I always read between the lines when reading a referral and there were some things in his initial referral that made me immediately think of Adam and Tim. I knew I needed to explore him further, regardless of age. I met with the young person's Local Authority Social Worker and his 1:2:1 worker – both gave me lots of information and context to his behaviours. Armed with this further information I was in no doubt that this young man needed to live with Adam and Tim. I would never force a carer to offer a home to a young person if they did not feel they were a suitable match: it is not me who lives with the young person and manages the behaviours daily. However, if I think the carer is saying no due to something that I can support with i.e. lack of knowledge on a topic or nerves then I will try and guide the carer and support them to feel more confident and able to say yes.
I approached Adam and Tim and told them some highlights about the young person and then shared that the young person was weeks away from turning 13 and was in secondary school. I knew Adam and Tim had imagined supporting a younger child but I asked them to look beyond the age, to keep an open mind, to read the referral document and the further information I had collated and then call me back. Adam and Tim called me back and the first thing they said was – “We want him!” Without prompting, Adam and Tim were able to recognise why I had shared the referral with them and could see the match was as close to perfect as it could be.
Fast forward to October 2023, that teenager is now 14 years old and is thriving in their care. Not only that but Adam and Tim have also welcomed another teenager into their home whom they are supporting post 18. Adam and Tim have become advocates for having an open mind and fostering teens.
*A referral is a document the Local Authority create about a young person. It is shared with Blue Sky when they are looking for a new home for the young person.
11 October 2023
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