Parenting is probably the most demanding and critical job in the world. Taking responsibility for a child, for children; caring for them, nurturing them, looking after their every need over years and years, takes patience, love, and courage. The Global Day of Parents emphasises this pivotal role families play in the protection and development of children all around the world. It celebrates their selfless commitment and efforts, and highlights the great value they bring to society every single day.
It is important to highlight that parents, just like families, come in all shapes and sizes. There are all the mom’s and dad’s, the grandparents, the uncles and aunties, the single parents, families with two moms or two dads, step parents, and, and, and. Many families are related by blood and many families are not.
There are also foster families and corporate parents. Many professionals like teachers and social workers play an integral role in children’s lives. They take on caring, educational, and protective responsibilities and are in many respects part of a parenting network.
In the UK, when a child goes into care – be that foster care or residential care like a children’s home – the Council becomes their so-called corporate parent. This means that the council, its employees and partner agencies such as health or educational institutions share responsibility to provide the best possible care and safeguarding for the child.
The Children’s Act 1989 revolutionalised legislation. Putting additional duties of care onto the courts and local authorities, it aimed to protect children’s rights and welfare, including ‘children in need’ and an increased effort to support healthy family structure. It summarises the role of the corporate parent as follows:
“The role of corporate parent is to act as the best parents for each child they look after and to take action by speaking out on their behalf, arranging for appropriate services to meet their needs, standing up for them and representing them as needed to ensure they grow up in the best possible way.”
But what does that mean in practice?
To get better insight into the concrete role of the corporate parent in children’s lives, we spoke to an experienced social worker and Corporate Parent Manager in London.
In your opinion, professional and personal, what is ‘good parenting’ and how does it translate into the corporate parenting space?
Good parenting for me requires so much of a person: To be supportive, to be a positive role model, to listen, but also to provide boundaries and challenge. To always be there, providing unconditional positive regard. To have high aspirations and push a young person to achieve their goals, support their relationships and adapt to their changing needs.
Our social workers are the face of the corporate parent, the person who reaches out to young people, to build a bond and try to provide them with all the things listed above. But they can’t. A social worker can’t be available 24/7, can’t always be there, and that’s where the wider professional network is so essential.
We all work together; foster carers, Independent Reviewing Officers, residential workers, Virtual school (located within the council the virtual school oversees looked-after children’s educational needs and provides resources and support to help them achieve outcomes); these individuals, when working well together, can provide a young person with the safety net around them that they need to thrive. And then the wider, organisation, Heads of Service, elected members, whilst not having individual relationships should provide the social worker with the support, the skills and the opportunities to enable that young person to thrive. And sometimes that means challenging, making difficult decision about budgets and placements but this should always be in the best interests of our children.
The global day of parents highlights the special bond between children and their parents. In that context, what are the challenges, responsibilities as well as opportunities of corporate parents in your opinion?
One of the young people we work with took this time to write to his Personal Advisor and say “I’m proud to be part of this council’s family.”
A family, that’s how he experienced the professional network, providing him with a sense of belonging, with a sense of identity. That’s what a good bond between corporate parent and young person looks like!
We as an organisation have huge resources, people, opportunities, partners that we work with and need to see our young people as ours, our responsibility to meet their needs and give them opportunities. Just as we would with our own children; broker work experience placements, help them with job applications, give them opportunities to explore new things, develop new skills and make new friends.