RCOT2018. Blog 14.Sess. 91 How I’ve become a better occupational therapist by being a foster carer

This session was led by Esther Day @otesterday from Essex Partnership NHS University
Foundation Trust
The aims of the session were:
  • To address the value of becoming a foster carer
  • To provide insight into the lived experiences of a foster carer for children with complex care needs

Given caseload, time constraints and pressures in the workplace it can become challenging for occupational therapists and students to focus beyond day to day work. Aspects of work, appointments being late or lack of service user engagement can become frustrating. Yet, how many of us have considered this from the other side? How many of us understand what it feels like to be the person attending an appointment be it for yourself or with someone you love?

Esther, occupational therapist currently working with adults with learning disabilities, talked openly and honestly about the day to day challenges of being a foster carer for children with complex needs and the heartwarming insight into the joy and happiness that comes with it.

She started with getting us to consider the little things. Sometimes as an occupational therapist there is nothing we can do, things may happen beyond our locus of control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. Simply giving someone the time, listening to them, validating their feelings may not solve the problem but can make all the difference. You don’t always have to provide a solution to provide support.

That’s where working collaboratively comes into play. The best therapy, if implemented at the wrong time, can lose meaning and impact. How do we know what’s going on in a family without talking to them? Yes, we are experts in the field of occupational therapy, but they are the experts in knowing their child, their family situation and potentially the right and the wrong time.

When it came to timing, Esther talked about the challenges of lone caring for children with complex health needs. As she said, sleep is her super power, yet while foster caring, the child becomes a priority. While she has children for respite, limited and disrupted sleep is a way of life for a lot of those caring for children and adults with learning disabilities.

That’s where we play a vital role. It’s time to start thinking about how we can make life easier, how can we ease the pressure of attending appointments and avoid setting carers up for failure. We need to consider family needs, ask them for a prefered location or time of day, be mindful of the families experiences and again, start making a difference by changing the little things.

The expectations and reality of being a foster carer are different, yes it does bring with it a number of challenges. Esther openly talked about a lack of sleep, the hour it takes to get everything ready before leaving the house and the reality of the experience. But ending the session with heartwarming stories of children giggling, crossing the mid line and playing.

At the end of the presentation it was obvious that despite the challenges and realities of being a foster carer it was the good moment and valuable time with the children themselves that made all the difference. As occupational therapists, it’s our duty to remember the little things, listening and work with families that will make life easier for those we work with.

Written by @Amie_OT

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