We have said goodbye to our family social worker, who has retired after a long and distinguished career with the county council. She has been with us since we became foster carers some years ago, and has been at our side through thick and thin. At a time of rapid change in children's services she has been the one constant; always steady, never flustered, pragmatic but unwilling to accept anything other than what was best for the children in our care. She has seen us grow as foster carers, and she has been patient, on those occasions when we have stumbled.
Our social worker has that rare gift of being able to stand back and trust a foster carer's judgment, giving good advice when it is needed. As foster carers we are advocates for the children in our care, ensuring that they have access to all that they need. And she has supported this mission by being a strong advocate for us, helping us to pull the right levers and press the right buttons to make things happen. We shall miss those late evening emails, sent after a busy day in the office, urging colleagues across children's services not to forget that our latest request is a) appropriate and b) urgent. They were always succinct and straight to the point.
Her connection to us is rooted in our care of looked-after children. But she has been present during momentous events in our own lives, because stuff happens, even when you are caring for others. She has joined in celebration, with the birth of our grandson, and also seen us grieve the death of a parent. There has been serious illness and redundancy, but also the joy of recovery and new beginnings. She has been with us throughout, and known when to give us time to reflect and when to nudge us along. And for that we are grateful.
As our social worker she has been at the heart of teams of people involved with our placement, from contact supervisors to health visitors, whose presence is a constant in our home. Their names become as familiar to us as those of our family and friends, filling diaries and flashing up on our mobile phones. They share our joy as the children find their way and grow in stature, and feel our pain when they suffer setbacks. And they bring comfort when the time comes, as it always does, to say goodbye to children who have become so dear to us.
These are tough times for social workers. Cuts in budgets have been of a magnitude never seen before by children's services. Posts remain unfilled, the workload multiplies and the cases become more complex. Family courts are overwhelmed. Children are coming into care in record numbers and the shortage of foster families deepens.
Harrowing stories of children who suffer abuse and neglect make national headlines and the finger of blame points, invariably, at social workers. But we see, daily and sometimes hourly, the dedication and concern that social workers have for vulnerable children and the extraordinary, superhuman efforts they make to keep them safe. Our social workers are also mums and dads, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, and the emotional burden of caring for other people's children weighs heavily upon them. They know that each decision they take, and every delay, has an impact on a vulnerable child who has already been failed by too many people.
I'm not sure I could live with that. Could you?