Recent debates about the care provided to looked-after children have been characterised by uncertainty about the differing roles and responsibilities of foster carers, birth parents, and social workers. To explore the assumptions underlying these uncertainties, we drew upon Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and compared the discourses used by professionals (social workers in a group discussion about foster placement breakdown) with those used by policy-makers (in the Governmental green paper 'Care Matters'). In both cases, a discourse based upon Attachment Theory was used to explain why placements succeed and fail, and to predict the repercussions of failure. However, there was a key difference in the way that professionals and policy-makers constructed the roles of key players in foster placements. The social workers constructed the birth parents as the parental figures for children in care, constructing themselves in a non-parental role. 'Care Matters' largely ignores the role of birth parents, and instead constructs social workers as parental figures. Neither source viewed foster carers as parental and 'Care Matters' positions this group as strictly professional. We discuss the incongruence of foster placements being understood through Attachment Theory, while foster carers are understood as non-parental figures, and also the repercussions of labelling a social worker as a parent, and the professionalization of the role of the foster carer.
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- Foster care
- Looked-after children
- Social work