Becoming a Foster Carer UK
If you want to change a child’s life, fostering is a great way to do it. Fostering is a way to provide children and young people a safe and secure family environment at a crucial juncture in their life. As a registered foster carer, you take on the role of being a loving parent for looked after children who are placed with you for a short time or for a long time. The length of time a child is placed in care varies from child to child, depending upon the specific situation. It might be overnight in an emergency or for years in a long-term placement. It could begin as an emergency placement and develop into a long-term arrangement.
Local authorities take children and young people into care and often turn to fostering agencies such as Capstone Foster Care for foster placements. We are experienced in all the aspects of fostering and know the challenges that fostered children face. We work closely with our foster carers and know their strengths and skills. Our experts are highly skilled in all aspects of fostering and able to respond immediately to the demands and requirements of this valuable service.
At any given time in the UK, there are thousands of children who need foster care and they are all unique. There is no specific fostering profile. Some are a sibling group, brothers and sisters who are in need of a temporary home and all they have is each other. Some have physical disabilities and some have behavioural difficulties. Foster children come in all different age groups. Some are teenagers and some are babies.
Speaking of babies, there is a common misconception that foster carers are given a selection of babies to foster. The reality is quite different. For a snapshot of the typical age of children in care, here is the breakdown for a specific date – March 31, 2015 – from Information on looked-after children at both national and local authority levels for the financial year 2014 to 2015. Of the 69,540 children in care in England on that day, only 5% were under a year old. There were fewer under four years old than in any other age group. The largest group is the 10 to 15 age group. Here is the breakdown by age groups for that day and the ratio is consistent over the period from 2011 to 2015.
- Under 1: 3,710
- 1 to 4: 10,120
- 5 to 9: 14,310
- 10 to 15: 26,140
- 16 and over: 15,270
While there are as many types of care as there are children in care because each child is different and has his or her own special needs, there is a set of categories that define the kind of expectations foster carers have.
- Long-Term Foster Care. Children in care on a long-term basis can be placed at a very young age and remain in care until they are old enough to leave care at the age of 18.
- Short-Term Foster Care. Short term placements provide a temporary home until the child or young person returns to their birth family or leave care or move on to long term fostering or adoption.
- Emergency Foster Care. If children are taken out of their family home in an emergency, very little might be known about their situation. Foster care is provided to the young person.
- Remand Foster Care. Remand is an alternative to police custody, a specialised type of fostering with the goal of getting young people out of a police environment into a place where they are given the space to think differently.
- Therapeutic Foster Care. Therapeutic placements can be long term or short term. Carers have more training and a more comprehensive tool set to deal with more challenging behaviours.
- Parent and Child Fostering Parents (mother/father/both) can be placed in foster care together with their baby/child/children. The needs vary but specially trained foster carers look after the parent(s) and child and ensure safety while the parent(s) are assessed.
- Parent and Child Assessment Foster Care. This is similar to parent and child placements but the foster carer and supporting social worker are expertly trained to carry out the assessment of the parent(s).
Back to the statistics of fostering. According to The Fostering Network there are more than 64,000 children living with nearly 55,000 foster families across the UK. This is almost 80% of the total average of 81,000 children who are in care on any single day in the UK. The numbers don’t change dramatically from year to year but the children in care do change somewhat. Every year, about 30,000 new children enter into care and about the same number leave the system. There are several reasons why they leave care. Some are returned to their own families, some age out of the care system, some are placed in a residence or given a special guardianship order, and some are adopted.
Of the 69,540 children in the care of local authorities on 31st March 2015, the majority (38%) were between 10 and 15 years old, 22% were 16 or over and 21% were between 5 and 9 years old. Clearly children over 10 make up the largest sector of foster care.
Ethnically, 77% were white, 9% were of mixed racial background, 4% were Asian or Asian British, 7% were Black or Black British, 2% were from other ethnic groups, and 1% did not provide information. 75% of the children and young people were living with foster carers, 9% were living in secure units, children’s homes or hostels, and 5% were placed with their parents. 5% were placed for adoption, 3% were with another placement in the community and 3% were placed in residential schools or other residential settings.
While it is possible to categorise the children in care into these statistical groups, it is more difficult to list the specialist types of foster care such as sibling groups, parent and child, teenagers, autistic children, and Downs syndrome children, to mention just a few special groups. These are areas where more foster carers are needed.
Here is a quick overview of the reasons children are taken into care. When a child is placed into care, the government has eight reasons – codesets for the category of need. They are 1) abuse or neglect, 2) child’s disability, 3) parents illness or disability, 4) family in acute stress, 5) family dysfunction, 6) socially unacceptable behaviour, 7) low income, and 8) absent parenting.
These are the primary categories and each child taken into care is placed in the category that most closely represents the reason for being taken into care. Looking again at the statistics for March 31, 2015, the breakdown of the reasons for the 69,540 children in foster care is as follows:
- Abuse or neglect – 42,710
- Child’s disability – 2,250
- Parents illness or disability – 2,380
- Family in acute stress – 6,310
- Family dysfunction – 11,000
- Socially unacceptable behaviour – 1,130
- Low income – 140
- Absent parenting – 3,630
Specialist care is needed especially in two of these categories – child’s disability and socially unacceptable behaviour. The child’s disability category is measured by children and their families whose main need for services arises out of the child’s disabilities, illness or intrinsic condition. Socially unacceptable behaviour refers to children and families whose need for services arises primarily out of their children’s behaviour impacting detrimentally on the community.
This is where it begins to become a bit confusing because these categories are established to create a form of order in an ever-changing environment where each story is different and yet some similarities are shared. As an example, children with disabilities are also found in any of the other codesets as well.
Of the children taken into care due to abuse or neglect, chances are that specialist care is needed in more than a few cases. Indeed, in any of the other codesets, specialist care might be needed. It is more than a matter of caring for autistic children or children with Down syndrome or children with physical disabilities who require extensive care. Sibling groups, particularly large sibling groups, need a home that can take in several children who have been through a traumatic experience. Another specialist type of foster care involves parent and child fostering.
In other words, there is no way to assure foster parents of the fostering requests that will come their way. Sibling groups, children with children of their own, children with behaviour issues, children with special needs – these are a few of the areas where foster care is urgently needed.
As mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to place a foster child into any one category. Teenagers are the largest group and caring for teenagers can be a challenge at any time because it is a time of hormonal and physical changes for them. On top of this teenagers worry about their looks, their acceptance by their peers, and their future. They have learned the hard way that expectations can not always be met. Often, a teenager has been in foster care for a while and this can affect their sense of trust. They may have been moved from one home to another or gone back to their families only to be returned to foster care.
Aside from everything else, there is the fact of teenage sexuality. Young women in foster care are twice as apt to become pregnant before they are 19 years old. The reasons range from being uninformed to a yearning to have a bond of love. The parent and child placement is an effort to help young parents learn parenting skills. Of the girls aged 12 and over taken into care, often 3% are mothers.
Many times the parent and child placement involves a mother and baby in care but it could include both parents or the father and baby. With this type of foster placement, the focus in on the parent-baby bond rather than on the bond between the foster carer and the infant.
Want to Foster?
If you want to foster, the main traits you need are resilience, patience and energy. Being consistent and reliable are essential. Children and young people entering into foster care have often been through experiences that negatively affect them and which could cause their behaviour to be difficult. Your family and friends know you best. Ask them what they think of you in the role of foster carer.
If you feel that this could be the career for you, this is what Capstone Foster Care asks of foster homes. Children under five are placed in non-smoking homes. Pets should not be aggressive or dangerous. Each foster child over 3 years old should have his or her own bedroom that is large enough for a single bed and furniture such as a chest of drawers and a wardrobe.
Your home may be rented so long as the landlord agrees to you fostering. You can be single, married, gay or straight, young (25 or over) or old. Your race or religion are not factors either. You should be in good health.
Fostering may not be what you thought it was and any babies that come into care might very well be coming into care with their teenage mother or as part of a sibling group that also includes teenagers. Your caring home and welcoming attitude can create a positive outcome for young people who are at their most vulnerable.
Currently there are about 44,625 foster families in England and an active need for 7,600 more foster families. If you would like to become a foster carer, contact Capstone with any questions you may have about the application and assessment process. We are an independent fostering agency and are known for the support we provide to our foster parents. Once your application has been accepted by our fostering panel and approval given, Capstone provides ongoing education, support, training, and networking remains. When you join Capstone, you become part of a team.
If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, contact Capstone Foster Care for further information on 0800 012 4004 or simply click here.