When I started off thinking about what I wanted to do once I left university and contemplated leaving my full-time job, I wondered what my options were. I did a bit of research and I happened to stumble upon fostering panel membership. My full-time job was within a fostering agency anyway so it seemed like a natural progression for me when entering the world of self-employment but, was I smart enough to join? Was I professional enough to join? What did I really have to offer as a panel member?
I decided to approach a fostering agency and had an interview and guess what? I was turned down…. I was thinking about giving up but I was determined to push through this rejection and achieve a role as a panel member. This rejection was probably the best thing for me. After this experience I went home and decided to write down what I had to offer. I needed to start believing in myself rather than have a “try and wing it” mentality. The list was quite surprising as I saw I had so much to offer. The list was:
I had been to university
I had 15 months experience of working for an IFA
I had transferable skills and experiences working with young people and foster carers
I knew about some regulations and legislation
I was a care leaver
I was passionate about young people
I was passionate about making sure young people were safe
You might be thinking how did this list really help me? But actually if I was able to keep that list in my mind when going to the next interview then I would smash it and get my role as a panel member. I decided that the people interviewing me wanted me to succeed but wanted to see what I had to offer and how I would be able to help them. So I applied to another fostering agency and was offered an interview and, guess what? I SMASHED IT and got the role. I then applied for another role as a panel member for another organisation and got that position too. So I managed to get two panel membership positions without actually having sat on a panel yet.
I was offered a panel observation and attended that. That was one of the best experiences of my professional life as it really taught me what I needed to do. I had read books about panel and how it operates but nothing teaches you as well as experiencing it first-hand. From that experience I felt ready to sit my first panel.
Getting the Form F through for the first time was eye opening. It was so long (It was lucky I was used to taking in a lot of information from my time at Uni). I digested the information but probably didn’t take it all in as much as I should’ve but I felt prepared. My questions were good and they were appropriate in my view. That first panel went well but it was a massive learning experience for me. I felt like everyone should’ve been having the same view as me as I was a care leaver and felt like I knew everything when in actual fact, I didn’t know a whole lot. I had a conversation with the panel chair and advisor at the end saying I didn’t feel cut out for being on panel as I thought all I had to do was turn up and give an opinion. They told me there was more to it than that but I had to give myself time as it will come to me and I was there to learn and develop. They really gave me confidence from that moment.
Fast forward five years, I’m now on 12 panels. I chair and vice-chair for IFAs and local authorities. I’ve turned it into part of my full-time business and I have learnt so much over those years but I owe it all to my first experiences of panel. I was naïve and arrogant but part of that was due to me using those things as part of my own survival techniques dating back to my time in care as I would often become arrogant and overly-confident as a way of deflecting from how I actually felt. I learnt how to move on and develop my weaknesses into my strengths. I’m now self-aware. I’m reflective. I’m committed to continual learning and development but, the biggest thing for me, is that I don’t know everything and there is always an opportunity to get better at what you do. I realise that I still have so much to offer but also that others have so much to offer too. This is why panels are so strong and have such purpose. We are there to ensure safeguarding is a priority of the organisations we work with. That foster carers are the best they can be.
But one thing that is important to me is that young people are having positive opportunities and experiences in care that will benefit them in the future to be able to say “do ya know what? I wanna give something back” as I did and maybe join a panel in the future to use their experiences.
I used to think I was just a care leaver on panel but I now know that I’m a professional in my own right.
If you’re thinking of joining a panel then absolutely go for it. Don’t think you have to know everything straight away but be willing to learn. Be willing to use your own life experiences when appropriate and you feel comfortable. Be willing to make a difference because you certainly will. But always remember; children are the reason we do what we do!
Nick is the founder of Nick Barwick Consultancy Ltd and is professional speaker, trainer, mentor and panel member www.nickbarwick.co.uk