When you make your application to become a Foster Carer, you’re embarking on a long and intrusive process of questioning, checking and examination.  Aside from some of the more obvious topics we faced, there was one question that I felt uncomfortable in answering fully during our process.

That question was the one enquiring about my lifestyle and hobbies.  Obviously your Agency needs to find out near enough everything about you, and of course enquiring about hobbies is a pretty standard process when you’re getting to know someone.  What makes it even more important in the fostering process though is that some of that information will be used to match you to any future placements.  For example, if you talk about the fact that your hobbies are very musical, and then a child comes into the system who also shares the same interest, it’s a nice starting point.

My husband and I have always fallen into the category of ‘sporty’.  We both work, volunteer and participate within a sporty and active lifestyle.  There is a little bit more to my adventures in this arena though.  For the past 8 years, I have been involved in Pole Fitness.

I hate going to the gym, but Pole Fitness is a sport (yes that’s how I classify it) that has worked wonders for helping keep me both fit and focussed.  To my mind, these are qualities to be proud of and to champion in others, especially teenagers.   However, society tells me that in my line of work or pursuit, I should keep this hobby quiet, and scramble to hide away my photos whenever someone from the Agency or a potential child comes to meet with us in our home.  I hate this.  I’m so proud of what I can do, but sadly I do still feel judged.

Whilst I can generally brush off negative comments, it annoys me when people use them against me because they honestly believe “it’s not what a Foster Carer should do”, or, in the words of my mother, “that’s not what a Foster Carer looks like”.  Even though the side of pole ‘dancing’ I engage with is a far cry from the roots of night clubs, high heels and glitzy underwear, I still always feel that I have to defend myself.  In wanting to avoid that, I sometimes just don’t even mention it at all, which is pretty tough considering that it’s such a big part of my life and something I’m really proud of.

If by this point you’re wondering how this blog fully relates to fostering, I have three pieces of advice for potential or existing Foster Carers:

  1. Foster Carers are chosen because of the people they are, the experiences they bring, and the role models they can be. There is no set formula for how these people should be ‘made up’ or indeed what they should ‘look’ like, so be honest about who you are and what you do.
  2. There is enough stigma already surrounding foster children, foster carers, and the whole concept of the fostering process in general. Be proud of who you are and what you do, and remember that changing a young person’s life can only ever be a positive thing.
  3. The child or young person who comes into your care will no doubt have their own interests, hobbies and pastimes. Keep an open mind to this, and in return in time, those kids will do the same for you.

Taking part in Pole Fitness has really shaped my self-confidence over the years.  When you look at all the good that comes from honing the strength, balance, grace, co-ordination and skill it takes to pull off most of the moves I train to master, you start to give your body a break for the way it looks and begin to champion yourself for what it can do.  If that attitude doesn’t make me in some way a positive role model for young people in today’s image obsessed society, I don’t know what does.Jo and Ste

Taking a child on to foster because you feel pressured by your agency, or because you haven’t had a placement in a while, or because you’ve been presented with countless referral forms and Jo and Stehaven’t by this point clicked with a single one, are not good enough reasons to say yes to fostering the child listed on the forms in front of you.
You will only ever be able to take on one child at a time (generally speaking), so as long as you do in fact take one on, you are fulfilling your role, you are doing your bit for the agency supporting you, and you are giving one more child a chance at a happy and healthy home life.
I hope my mum reads this blog. She’s always been worried about who I’ll end up sharing my home with since becoming a Foster Carer. No matter how many times I tell her that I have a say in the matter, she still remains under the impression that you have a child forced upon you as soon as a case comes up.
To my mum, and to anyone else out there who has questions about this – let me assure you, it doesn’t happen like that
The foster agency will do all they can to find you a ‘match’ – a child who they believe would fit into your family and enjoy the same lifestyle options as the people within it. Additionally, they try to match you with a child who has needs that they know your skill-set would be suited to dealing with. This needs to be how it works with a good agency, because the last thing they want is to make a wrong pairing and watch as it all falls apart. That scenario is emotionally distressing for everyone, but it will always be the child that suffers the most, and nobody wants that.
Sometimes though, not enough is known about a child to make a close match, and assumptions need to be made. As a result, the foster agency will often present you with cases that leave you with more questions than there are answers. I have full respect for any carer who can overlook all of that and simply open their arms, hearts, minds and doors to these children. I’m ashamed to say I’m not like that. I need to know that everything about the match feels right, because I would not be able to carry on as a Foster Carer if at some point in the future I actively knew I was setting myself up for a potential placement breakdown.
Working with teenagers, maybe I’m just used to saying no, but it’s something I would advocate all carers should feel free to do when making an actual life-changing decision.

A few months ago I wrote a blog that focused on fostering and its associated funds, entitled ‘Doing it for the Money’.

In the main, I got a fantastic response to the blog.  It seemed I had answered a fair few questions and quashed a few myths.  Job done.

However, I still hear people talking so harshly about fostering, as though the money is the only motivator to get people to sign up.Jo and Ste

Have you seen the government figures on rates of pay for Foster Carers?  If not, here they are:

You can do a quick search on www.gov.uk and you’ll see these figures in live action.

Admittedly, if you register with an independent/private agency they can offer you more money at their discretion, but let’s just base things on the government stats, for now.

So, I don’t live anywhere near London, and my plan is to foster teenagers – most likely school-age. Excuse me whilst I take a break from blogging to book my flights to the Maldives now on my massive £159 per week!  Wow!  Let’s not forget that it is highly likely that any prospective Foster Carer would have to quit formal employment in order to fulfil all the requirements of their new role.  Bye bye, bonuses.  Farewell, flexitime.  Adios, annual leave.

Fostering is a 24 hour job – no clocking in, no early finish.  Yes the kids go to school in the day (hopefully) and yes they go to sleep in the night (ideally), but what if they’re excluded from school? What if they run away in the middle of the night?  I’m sorry, I know this is extreme, but these things could happen.  In a standard job, you’d have to work 22 hours on National Minimum Wage in order to hit £159 per week.  In the cold hard light of fostering reality, you’re working 168 hours a week for 95p an hour.

Perhaps this blog isn’t going to do a great deal to inspire people to walk out on their careers and get into fostering, owing to the reality of the hideous drop in ‘wage’ that I’ve just hit you with.  But just maybe it will highlight to the cynics that the people who choose to do this are generally good people with big hearts, if not wallets.

I write this purely because a year on from first going through assessment, I’m still faced with people who question the motives.  Personally, I don’t think it’s the money that puts good people off getting involved – it’s the judgements of people who have no clue about any of it.

That’s why I write these blogs.

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