Rosemary is the Interim Head of Service (Corporate Parenting) for Merton. She talks us through the intricacies of fostering and corporate parenting, the unique rewards of working with adolescents, and how her own big decision as a young person led her to swap art and design for social work.

In social work practice, Corporate Parenting is the idea that as a local authority is responsible for children and young people under their care, they should approach their role with the same focus as any other responsible parent or guardian, making decisions with a view to getting the best outcome for every child. For Rosemary, the role her service plays in bridging the gap between statutory responsibilities and building meaningful, constructive relationships with the young people they support.

“For me it’s about the relationships. What do we want our relationships to be with our children and young people? How do children want to be spoken to? How do they want to be praised? When we are working on health, education or self-esteem,  holding them in that kind of parent-child space and asking “Is that decision good enough for my own child, my niece or nephew?””

An example of how this might work in practice is the way decisions are made around fostering placements. Here, the “matchmaking” element of choosing a foster parent can present a challenge, but also an opportunity for the borough to create a lasting, nurturing support network.

“How do we make a foster home feel like home for a child, because every child is different? Our ethos is to always try to place children within Merton, so they stay close to their families, their communities, remain in the same school and in an area they are familiar with.”

Taking the time to get these placements right for each child is always worthwhile, as a foster home can have a profound impact on their wellbeing and future outcomes:

“When I see children in their homes, when they've decorated their bedrooms, when they're achieving something, when there's pictures on the wall in their foster home and they're feeling really part of the family… It’s so rewarding when you can see children are able to integrate into their new home.”

Rosemary’s social work career to date has included spells working in child protection and youth justice, and she discovered a particular affinity for working with adolescents, helping them to navigate the difficult decisions which pave the way for adulthood. 

“I believe that you can make sustainable change at every different point in a child's life. But I guess my calling and maybe my passion is always live with our adolescents… I find it really interesting at that age and stage in life, the choices that people make. We can all remember transitional points in our life where we may have wanted a different outcome, or thought “That was quite transformational, it actually gave me the best outcome that I could have in life.”

In social work terms, Rosemary’s own “transitional point” came when she was considering options after leaving college.

“I thought I was going to go off and do an art and textile design degree. At that moment in time, my drive was trying to get into some sort of design school. The switch to social work happened for me when I was looking at my own family dynamic and personal life in terms of within my family unit, which has an experience around fostering and adoption… a career in social work just made a connection to me and my family life, therefore, I switched at the last minute and went on to a social work course at university.”

Rosemary supplemented the academic learning on her course with practical experience working in schools in a behaviour support role, which helped to cement the idea that this was the career path for her. After qualifying she spent some time in other authorities before returning to her home borough:

“The best thing about Merton for me is the culture. I may be biased because I've grown up in Merton! But the culture is always the same, the welcome is the same. One thing I would say about Merton is people talk and communicate more. People will seek you out. Sometimes working in London, you might feel like a small fish in a big pond, but actually being in Merton, people will make sure that they spend time talking to you, introducing themselves to you, asking you if you need any help.”

If you’re considering social work as a career option yourself, Rosemary’s advice was to follow her example and build up an understanding of what the job is like, as social work tends to be a very welcoming profession:

“Just don’t be afraid to reach out. When I was struggling with that decision, I just reached out to people who were aware of what the social work world was all about. One of the things that I know is quite common amongst all social workers, everybody's willing to help, everybody's willing to share, everybody's willing to talk.”

Find out more about working with Rosemary in Merton, and view their current opportunities.