Simply put, the matching process is about ensuring (as much as possible) that the young people Affinity are responsible for are placed into the best family environments to help them thrive. Every child and foster carer have their own set of needs and circumstances that need to be considered during the matching process. Age, gender, location, educational needs, allergies to pets, transport, experience and temperament to name just a few. Picking out these pertinent points enables the team to create matching criteria which can, hopefully, ensure that a placement will be successful. For example, if birth children or existing young people in the household attend a variety of schools, it could be difficult to introduce a placement child who attends a school in a different area.
Affinity has always strived to provide a professional, friendly and welcoming service to both our foster carers and the young people in our care. We consider our carers and young people to be part of the Affinity Family. Our family ethos is why we ensure our matching process is both meticulous and rigorous. No one benefits from a poor matching process.
Once a foster carer is approved by panel then the matching process can begin. For all foster carers joining the Affinity Family, Karen is the first point of contact. Karen has been an integral part of the team since the beginning and is key to ensuring that the matching process runs like clockwork.
Karen gets to know them, finding out about their background, their fostering hopes and about their family life. Ensuring that everyone involved is invested in the fostering process is vital in making any potentially successful young people placements.
Karen’s foster industry experience and a background in HR allows her to builds relationship and understanding of the foster carers involved, this enables her to start to consider who might fit into their family setting. Encouraging openness and communication is extremely important here, especially where there are birth children in the family
When speaking to Karen about successful matches over the years, it’s easy to see why she takes such pride in her work, “I get a real buzz from making sure a young person has gone to the right carers” she says, smiling.
However, matching successfully doesn’t always happen immediately after a panel recommendation to foster. New foster carers may need to wait some time for the right young person for their family.
Communication and feedback from foster carers about potential placements are essential to the matching process. Discovering why foster carers decline placements helps Affinity match successfully in the future, including identifying where foster carers may need extra training or aspects of their matching preferences that require amending. At the end of every placement Affinity’s Social Workers sit down with the foster carers to discuss what went well and what could have been improved. This feedback informs our matching process for the next time.
Once a potential match is found, Karen liaises with the foster carer and their supervising social worker to see if they agree that they’d be a good match. A part of Affinity’s ethos is that it’s always a foster family’s decision as to whether they welcome a child or young person into their home. Affinity never forces foster carers to take a child- Specifying that carers must accept certain placements can trigger resistance to making any placement success and can knock carer confidence if it ultimately fails. Equally important, is the effect that a failed placement can have on a young person who may have already experienced rejection.
The success of our process speaks for itself. While in an ideal world it would be great to provide an opportunity for carers and placement children to meet and see if they will work together, the time-sensitivity related to fostering means that this doesn’t always happen.
Affinity’s support continues when a match has been made and a young person has been placed. “New carers have wonderful expectations but can when a placement happens. That’s why we offer continued training and support.” Affinity also has an out of hours social worker every day of the year, who calls to give reassurance and support on the first day of the placement. This cements the knowledge that there is always someone available, even when the office is closed.
However, Karen and her team’s list of successes goes beyond finding perfect placements, with some foster carers eventually adopting their placement children, providing them with their permanent forever family. “I love it” she says.
Affinity doesn’t accept placements throughout the night. While Affinity’s carers are required to have their phones on them at all times and there are moments when they have to make snap decisions. There are a number of reasons why Affinity doesn’t expect their foster carers to take emergency night placements. One of the most important factors is that emergency placements can cause significant disruption in the existing household. A part of Affinity’s belief system is to maintain a long-term focus, which encourages nurturing and growth.