IFCA has a very important responsibility for representing the views of its membership to individuals such as Ministers and other politicians, to agencies whose work impacts on fostering such as Tusla and to the general public. Our message may be informative, critical or complimentary but whatever it is, it must reflect as accurately as possible the viewpoint of the IFCA membership.
We call this work advocacy but one might equally call it campaigning work or PR. Advocacy can take many forms; it may aim to achieve a change in practice, policy or legislation, to comment on a matter that relates to fostering, to recruit new carers or to comment on broader issues relating to children and families. This inevitably determines our approach and how we might measure our success. There are occasions when we might be gentle and encouraging in how we do things and others when we may more critical and robust in our comments. However, one thing that is clear is that we must be forthright, open and true to our principles even if that means being critical of funders or friends.
There is no sole route by which IFCA identifies issues for advocacy or how we advocate on behalf of our members. The responsibility for advocacy rests with IFCA senior staff who are accountable to the Board for this work. One condition of advocacy is to ensure that the issues acted upon are a true reflection of the priorities of IFCA members and not minority interests raised by a few individuals or raised as a result of incomplete or incorrect information. In these instances we have a responsibility to inform and correct errors.
So how do we identify what we advocate on? Again, there are a number of routes. One is through direct contact by foster carers, (members and non-members), branches and regions – either by calls to the Office or the Helpline. In these instances issues are brought to the attention of senior staff by other team members at team meetings and by circulation and discussion of statistics from the Helpline. These statistics are based on primary and secondary issues raised and a wealth of data has been gathered from over 1,500 calls that give a clear picture of just what is impacting on fostering at present.
IFCA Regional Representatives’ reports also identify issues raised at their regional meetings which in turn, reflect issues raised at local branch meetings. These issues are responded to, in the main, at meetings with additional information being forwarded to the relevant region and all representatives following the meetings. A system to track issues raised to ensure all are responded to and to identify what issues are recurring has been developed; this ensures ongoing issues are active on our advocacy agenda.
In addition to these systems IFCA branches will occasionally contact the office following a meeting to clarify a query or raise a concern they require a swift response to and this, together with issues staff become aware of as they attend IFCA meetings across the country also inform our agenda; again these meetings are attended by members and non-members.
So how do we advocate? The majority of IFCA’s advocacy work will be through Tusla, Child and Family Agency (CFA). Regular meetings have been set up with CFA teams at a regional level in a number of areas. These meetings are attended by the IFCA Regional Representative and staff from the IFCA Office together with the CFA Area Manager, Principal Social Workers or Team Leaders for fostering and, in some cases, aftercare and child protection. These meetings are a good forum for raising issues relevant to the area in a non-personalised manner, i.e. we bring issues to Tusla’s attention without giving names and specifics. We also meet with Tusla nationally to raise issues at that level and discuss developments within IFCA