What is matching?
Arguably the most vital stage of the fostering process, matching a child or young person to a suitable foster carer is crucial to achieving successful placements and a stable environment for the vulnerable. It is to ensure that the placement is unlikely to break down, creating a better future for both the family and the foster child. Our matching process takes place when a child or young person is referred to TACT by the local authority.
Why is matching so important?
Although our natural human instinct is to say yes to looking after any child or young person in need of love and support, placing a child into a home environment unable to meet their specific needs can often cause more problems than solutions. If the placement is unsuitable and breaks down/ends, the most vulnerable members of our society must then move homes yet again, causing them more stress and trauma. They will often start to feel it is their own fault that their foster placement hasn’t worked, rather than the fault of an incompatible match. It is incredibly important to understand that despite carers having full capacity to provide love and attention, if they do not possess the necessary skills, experience, environment or family unit to compliment that child or young person’s needs, the match could still be unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, not all agencies will put the same care and attention into a matching process. Often driven by money and profit, there can be pressure to make matches between fostering families and young people, which can sadly end in many placement breakdowns due to circumstances not being right for both the foster family and the child or young person. As a not-for-profit charity organisation, TACT commit to putting the young people in care first without fail, meaning that we look very closely at matching to absolutely ensure the highest likelihood of a successful match.
How do we match?
So how is matching carried out? Well, when a child or young person’s file is referred to us, we closely analyse multiple factors from their history and current situation to determine their needs. These needs can include anything from cultural and physical needs to developmental and emotional needs. For example, a young person’s pre-care history may have created specific triggers for them that are best to be avoided with their new foster carers. This way, they are more able and likely to form healthy attachments and replace certain traumas with reverse positive experiences.
“The process commences with a ‘referral’ document highlighting the needs of the child; some basic, some complex. It offers a narrative, a unique story and glimpse into the life of a child, not just any child but someone’s child. As such, it is vital to understand that story, fill in the gaps, analyse, evaluate and make some sense of what the child needs.”
Shaun, TACT Placement Officer
Logistical aspects are also considered. For example, location/commute is important as it is always ideal (if feasible) to keep children and young people in a similar area so they can continue in their current school and have contact with birth family (if applicable). Other things can include pets or whether the home set-up compliments the young person well (if they have a physical disability, for example).
We then compare all of these factors against our pool of available foster carers to locate the most complimentary match for both parties. We have an incredibly deep understanding of each one of our active fostering households, meaning we are able to cross reference to a very detailed degree whether the needs will be met. When a suitable match is found, we contact the carer/s and discuss the possibility of the placement – we walk them through all of the information about the child or young person and ask whether they feel them and their families (including birth children) agree it is a positive match.
“The choice is honed by the practical and the logistical, but the key to ‘a good match’ are softer considerations and thus, a phone call to a foster carer is made. Apart from technical data, the Placement Officer shares everything they know, translating jargon, highlighting the salient points and themes. This interaction is a dialogue, an honest discussion where the only ‘pressure’ on the foster carer is not to feel ‘pressured’ but to make a decision that is not just right for the child but the fostering household that leads to a viable fostering option being put forward.”
Shaun, TACT Placement Officer
After some time to think it over, the potential carer then contacts their social worker and informs them that they are eager to proceed with caring for the young person. After this, the Local Authority reviews the suggested carer/s and decides the best possible outcome for the child, ensuring everybody feels secure about the needs of the child being met and the ability of the carer/s to meet said needs.
“When a ‘match is identified, an immediate reward is knowing that the child is somewhere safe. In the longer term, the true gift is seeing young people grow emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically.”
Shaun, TACT Placement Officer
What happens when we don’t find a match?
In some cases, a suitable match cannot be found within the TACT pool of foster carers, and the referral must be sent back to the Local Authority. This is difficult; we would love to find a match for every child or young person, and this only shows the urgent need for more foster carers who can care for all different types of young people. We refuse to make any match that we are not at least optimistic will be successful, because the most important thing should be working towards the best outcome for vulnerable children and young people.
Every foster carer offers something unique, and in order to make better matches we desperately need more foster carers in our pool to choose from. We specifically need more carers for teenagers and sibling groups, as we receive lots of referrals for both, and it’s vital we can offer a safe space for teenagers and keep sibling groups together wherever possible.
If you believe you or someone you know could foster, please enquire with TACT now – we’d love to speak with you.