A supervising social worker is someone who supervises, develops, and supports foster carers.
Foster carers play a crucial role in providing family-based care for young people. They provide security, stability, and a sense of belonging to vulnerable children who cannot live with their families. As such, foster carers must also be professionally supported practically and emotionally. The bulk of this support is provided by a supervising social worker (SSW).
The relationships and duties of SSW’s have evolved with the professionalisation of foster care. Expectations of the supervising social worker job role are set out in Standard 21 of the Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards in England (Department for Education, 2011).
Their main role is to ensure all children and foster carers are safeguarded, and to ensure foster carers meet the requirements laid out in fostering legislation. They must build effective working relationships with fostering families and support the foster carers development.
SSW’s act as the main link between the fostering household and the fostering service. They are distinct from the role of a child’s social worker (LA social worker) as follows:
Child’s social worker – appointed by the child’s local authority (LA) to advocate for the child’s best interests and help children, young people and their families when they are going through difficult times.
Supervising social worker – employed by the fostering service to enable, support and supervise a fostering family.
Most SSWs have worked for local authorities before deciding to join an independent fostering service. They have often worked in child protection and safeguarding teams, and so bring lots of experience of working directly with children and families.
So, what exactly is the role of a supervising social worker in fostering?
“As a Supervising Social Worker my role is to build relationships with Foster Carers, providing them with support and supervision, guidance within their roles and assisting with their understanding of the needs of a child (or young person) in their care.”
Stacey, Supervising Social Worker
The Role of The Supervising Social Worker in Foster Care
The SSW role is complex and covers both the support and supervisory aspects of professional work with a foster carer.
For example, if a foster carer experiences a family bereavement, the support relationship from the SSW comes to the fore. If a child protection matter is raised by the LA social worker, the supervisory aspect comes to the fore.
The SSW supports foster carers in several key areas:
Writing, reporting, and enabling
Completing assessments, annual reviews and reports about and on behalf of the foster family. This includes completing statutory processes about the carer and any children in placement and developing a training plan.
SSW’s help a child’s local authority gather and record relevant information in a timely manner. They will ensure records are kept to evidence how a child is being cared for and how their needs are being met.
For example, how is the child’s identity and contact with birth family being promoted? How they are being supported to achieve in life, be safe, keep well, and have access to all the things a child of their age should have access to such as friends, family, and education?
SSWs will complete annual foster carer reviews (AFCR) to make sure carers are meeting national minimum standards as per fostering legislation. Are the carers engaging in training, completing their foster care tasks, and is there anything not working well? From this, areas of focus can be identified and appropriate support and/or training put in place.
They will also ensure foster carers are completing mandatory training within agreed timescales. Every foster carer should be assigned a personal development plan (PDP), identifying training that is mandatory, plus any other training that will enhance their knowledge and skills.
“It is my responsibility to develop and build effective working relationships with foster families. This includes understanding the dynamics of the fostering household, and how the fostering task is incorporated and impacts on all family members.”
Keeping in touch
Being available to discuss foster carers concerns or challenges and staying in regular contact. This includes meeting with the foster carer once a month for supervision and completing unannounced visits.
SSW’s will keep in touch with foster carers on a regular basis to find out:
- How the young person is doing
- How are the carers and their family?
- Is there something missing?
- Is support needed?
- How the family is managing
- Is everyone healthy and well?
- Are there any issues impacting on the child’s care?
The foster carer and SSW will have monthly recorded supervisions. Supervisions centre around the support needs of the family and on the child’s development in their care. The SSW will also speak with the child just to check on things.
It is a government requirement to complete at least one unannounced visit a year, but at Family Care we do two. The main purpose of the unannounced visit is to look at the home environment a child is living in. If the foster carers are not at home, the SSW will leave a note and follow up another time.
Unannounced visits should include:
- An opportunity to talk to the child
- See the child’s bedroom
- Observe the home environment in terms of health and safety and safe caring
- Observe the relationship between all adults and children present
The SSW team are also available for support 24/7, including evenings and weekends. There will always be a social worker to speak to if something is up.
“Having a good, solid, professional working relationship is key and having an open and honest means of communication. I couldn’t do my role well and effectively without my SSW, who supports me through often difficult times especially dealing with other agencies and authorities.”
Jen, Foster Carer
Attend meetings about the foster carer and child being cared for
Supporting foster carers and representing the fostering service during professional meetings. Advocating for the foster carers and on behalf of the service.
The local authority must arrange various meetings regularly to review and monitor the child’s wellbeing.
There are three common meetings which SSWs will attend:
- CLA Review (Child Looked After Review) – this is a statutory meeting between the key people in a child’s life to discuss and review their care. Foster carers will attend these meetings as well.
- PEP meetings (Personal Education Plan) – a record of how professionals around the child will support the young person’s educational outcomes and achievement.
- Care planning meetings – this is where professionals talk about what the plan is for the child’s future. This usually involves discussions with IROs (Independent Reviewing Officers) to ensure that a child is getting the best care possible.
During these meetings, SSW’s will represent the fostering service, support the foster family, update and advise the LA, and advocate for the child’s interests based on the fostering service’s reports and views.
For foster carers, SSWs are the main point of contact to the fostering team. Carers consistently report that their relationship with SSW’s is very important to them. It has even been shown as a factor in the recruitment and retention of foster carers.
As you can see, the role of a supervising social worker in foster care is varied. Fostering presents all different kinds of challenges and can be quite unpredictable. Good SSW’s can adapt to the situation in front of them with a view to supporting the foster carer, the fostering service, and most importantly, the child.
“For me, the best part of the job is building relationships with my foster carers and seeing the amazing difference they make in children’s lives.”
Zsuzsa – Supervising Social Worker
If you are interested in a role as a supervising social worker, check out our fostering vacancies page. Additionally, if you are an experienced fostering assessor you can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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