Job hunting advice
Join recruitment experts and social workers for an online job hunting advice clinic
Nine times out of ten, when you mention you foster people go quiet for a second. Often they’re wondering if they could foster. Sometimes they say they’ve been giving fostering some thought.
So, if you are thinking of becoming a foster carer, or you want to know more, here’s what you will need to consider – and an idea of what your fostering journey might look like.
The fostering journey – from the beginning
You need a spare bedroom. It doesn’t have to be big, but preferably upstairs, near the other bedrooms and near the bathroom. A car is essential too, but not a two-seater.
You might think you need experience working with children. At my agency two of our most outstanding carers are a woman who’s never had any of her own children and a former professional footballer. Both are exceptionally skilled with troubled children.
People thinking about fostering are usually embarrassed to ask about money, as if it seems mercenary. Foster carers receive what’s called an ‘allowance’, which is calculated every night each child is in your home. The rates are up on my agency’s website.
Next you need to decide whether you’re going to work for your local authority or a private agency. Children placed by the council are sometimes easier cases, authorities tend to offer the more challenging children to agencies. Not always, of course. The allowance is generally more if you’re with an agency, perhaps for this reason. Some prefer working directly with the council, others, like me, prefer being with a dedicated fostering operation.
The process of getting approved is much the same whoever you’re with, and wherever you live. It takes between six and nine months. A trained assessor visits you about once a month, to find out about you and your family background. They’ll be interested in the ups and downs of your life because that’s where you’ll have shown yourself capable of coping.
A form has to be filled in, it’s a big one and they will help you. They will talk you through the different types of fostered child. The list is long: emergency cases – where a bed is needed immediately; respite cases – where the child and carers need a break from each other; short-term placements – where it’s hoped the child will return home at the earliest chance. The assessors guide you to your strengths and end up with possibilities that may suit you.
Finally, a panel of other foster carers and independent experts meets you and tells you yes, no or maybe. When you get your appointment to meet the panel you are entitled to get yourself, your family and your home into a state of readiness because the call may come that same evening.
Now you are a foster carer. You go home and follow some of the tips you’ve been given. You stack the freezer and fill the fruit bowl. You buy children’s clothes because someone said children sometimes arrive with nothing but what they’re standing in.You replace patterned curtains and paint over patterned wallpaper; looked-after children can see monsters in any pattern. You sort out your collection of DVDs; fostered children need magic and hope and it’s all there in Toy Story. The family can enjoy it together.
The phone rings. ‘Can you take an eight year-old girl who needs a bed tonight?’ You say yes and ask if there’s any idea how long for. The honest reply is, ‘It might be a couple of nights, it might be ten years’. And now you are no longer a foster carer. You are Jenny M’s foster carer, or Jimmy’s, or both. Each child is so incredibly singular that the majority of what you do with them is specific to who they are. In a short space of time you’ll know them better than anyone.
As a foster carer you’ll be comprehensively trained and supported, by your agency or council. As you hear about different ways of de-escalating a hot-tempered child, you won’t be thinking about fostered children in general. You’ll only have one picture in your mind, imagining how your looked-after child can be helped with the new techniques you’re learning.
We are holding a conference in London on 23 April on evidence-based approaches to supporting foster carers
And that’s fostering in a nutshell. It’s one of those tasks where the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.
If I had to pass on one thing that’s true for me, it’s this: Good fostering has many things in common with good grandparenting. It’s likely we all have a warm memory of at least one dear grandparent; slower to anger, more patient, gentler, solid and dependable in their experience. Grandparents, like foster parents, are not your real parents, but they can be the next best thing.
So, if you’re even slightly intrigued, even if fostering is not something you can contemplate right now, even if it’s something that might not suit you but might be a good option for someone you know, please take a moment to find out more.