Caerphilly is boosting its supply of foster carers by specifically supporting men who take on the role. Emma Parsons reports
Male foster carers often feel overlooked and underrated and can find support and training services do not meet their needs.
At a time when children’s services are desperate for more foster families, men are an obvious focus for recruitment drives by fostering agencies. But until attitudes towards male carers change such targeting is likely to be of limited success.
In Caerphilly, male foster carers have set up a networking group that addresses some of their specific concerns and provides the support they can find lacking in the usual forums traditionally centred on women.
Men who Care was formed two years ago to provide peer mentoring and support for the male foster carers in the area around Caerphilly. They hold meetings four times a year where they listen to speakers and discuss the social aspects of their role.
Significantly, social workers feel the group actually helps with the recruitment and retention of foster carers, says Jane Moore, service manager for Caerphilly Council children’s services. Potential carers can speak to the group about concerns they may have.
Fostering Network Wales membership development officer Maria Bossey says: “It has a very high attendance rate and a unique format. The meetings have a different feel from the traditional coffee mornings. It’s structured towards peer mentoring.”
Men in foster families often find they are the ones expected to deal with a situation when it gets physical, for instance, even though they may not feel uncomfortable filling that role or inadequately trained to do it.
Another complaint is the way in which they can be treated by fostering agencies and social services that commonly want to deal with the female half of a couple. “[The group] gives them the confidence to deal with things themselves and not hand the phone over,” adds Bossey.
The training and support groups usually offered to foster carers often don’t fit with men’s timetables as they are normally the ones in full-time employment, and they can feel uncomfortable in an environment that is mainly female. Men who Care meets in the evenings and members find they can be more open about issues like sexual health.
When group member Brian Kilby first began fostering with his wife 22 years ago a child who was sexually abused was placed in their care. He felt he needed training geared towards men to deal with that. Men who Care has provided him with male-oriented training for the first time.
“It’s awkward to get time off for the training courses that my wife goes to. Also, they’re very female oriented and you can feel awkward discussing [issues like that],” he explains.
Another group member John Banthron says: “I’ve been fostering for 27 years now with my wife and we still pick up things which are helpful. Last time [the group] did something on the internet and it opened my eyes about what children can get on to, so we keep more of a watch on them [when they’re on the computer] now.”
A recent training session explored some common frustrations. Unhelpful practices include fostering services “asking for the wife” when phoning post only being addressed to “Mrs” and most training only offered daytimes during the week. In one instance, a couple who received a carer of the year award from their agency found only the woman’s name on it.
Single men or those in same sex couples also report meeting suspicion about why they want to be carers. This is backed by research by children’s charities NCH and Chance UK that found fear among men of being branded a paedophile puts them off volunteering to work with children.
Freelance trainer and consultant on fostering issues Jeff Leeks, who conducts the training, says: “Men felt that was the agenda – you’re a paedophile until you can prove you’re not. They found they were not able to work as freely with the children because of that risk-led approach. We’re trying to encourage men to challenge [these attitudes].”
Leeks believes attitudes are starting to change. “Agencies are looking beyond what was historically the norm because family dynamics are changing and partnerships are changing. More and more men are primary carers. Agencies are realising that females are not necessarily the lead carers.”
The Fostering Network says 10,000 more foster carers are needed from a range of backgrounds and skills to ensure every child gets the right placement and to reduce the risk of it breaking down.
“In order to recruit more carers and retain the existing ones, there has to be a support system in place,” says a spokesperson for the Fostering Network. Men who Care is helping to provide that support.
More about the campaign to increase the number of male foster carers
The Fostering Network offers training for male foster carers
This article appeared in the 22 May issue under the headline “Welsh welcome for male carers”