In this post, we explore strategies for building positive relationships with children and young people who are in local authority care. Looked after children in need of support workers have faced very difficult times and will have complicated backgrounds. You may also be responsible for working with children who have been taken into care by the local authority as a result of domestic abuse at home or the death of a parent or guardian. It is likely that the children will not understand how or why their lives have turned out the way they have…
In cases where children are attending a new school, they may be dealing with feelings of isolation and rejection while they attempt to integrate. It is therefore understandable that young people will have a challenging time communicating how they feel about their current situation. As a result, feelings of frustration and confusion are likely to come out in disruptive, confrontational or withdrawn behaviour, or a combination of all three.
As a support worker, having a positive impact in this role requires patience, resilience empathy and a positive outlook.
Who Are ‘Looked After Children’?
Various reasons lead to the placement of looked-after children (also called LAC). Over 70% of LAC are in foster care, with around 12% in kinship care (being looked after by a friend or relative who is not a parent). Placements can be short-term or last until the child turns 18 or is adopted. LAC also includes unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Below we explore key strategies and ideas to aid support workers in building positive relationships with looked after children and young people:
1. There is no such thing as a “typical” looked-after child
Young people in care may feel a loss of identity. This stems from a feeling of rejection from the place or family they came from. They may then feel they have been labelled as a ‘LAC.’ To counter this, treat each young person as an individual and don’t let the fact they are in care define them.
2. Prepare for difficult topics and conversations by knowing crucial information and dates
There could be several triggering topics or dates for the young person (birthdays, anniversaries, father’s day etc). Speak with carers and other professionals involved with the young person. Find out as much you can about occurrences that may destabilise mood and progress. Always consider the full context when evaluating how the young person you are supporting is doing.
3. Aim to empower young people in care
Living in care can have a profound and far-reaching impact on young lives. Empower young people by ensuring they have a voice and a choice in the activities you do together. Be positive and encouraging about their interests and passions. This will, in time, empower them to feel they matter as part of society and can have a bright future ahead of them.
4. Provide emotional support
If a young person has had emotional bonds severed or disrupted they are likely to experience attachment disorder (take our free ‘Introduction to Attachment Disorder teaching course!) We must understand that our earliest experiences have a deep effect on individual development and behaviour. Young people in care will need emotional support to be able to develop trust and to start to feel safe and secure. The use of help scripts can work well to support individuals who are finding it hard to maintain control of their emotions. (e.g. ‘I can see you’re upset. This must be very difficult for you. I’m here to listen.‘) Help scripts are positive set phrases that aim to deescalate a situation where a young person is in crisis. Support workers who use a ‘help script’ can remain calm and convey the message the young person feels listened to.
5. Support young people to identify and strengthen their support networks
Inner conflict will be high in many looked after children. They will be questioning their identity, struggling to understand their personal history whilst feeling a conflicted sense of loyalty between their family and their carer. Activities such as this ‘support balloon‘ activity can support young people to visualise that there is a network of people that care and want them to do well.
6. Plan for future transitions
Dealing with change may be a regular occurrence for the looked after children you encounter. Transitions may include a change in home life or a move into a new school. The prospect of having to develop new relationships with carers, peers or teachers will be very daunting. As a support worker, you should be aware of major future transitions for the young person. First and foremost, this is vital to ensure that you are able to support any preparation or induction programmes that may be in place for the child. This may include extra visits to the new environment or establishing mentoring links.
Thank you for reading our post on building supportive and positive relationships with looked after children. If you are interested in support worker jobs, view our latest vacancies. You can also register your interest to have a chat with the team.