Jo is back with another short blog for Capstone. This time she shares her thoughts on ‘fostering for money’.

I hope that title got your attention?

I used it because there are sadly too many people out there who believe foster carers are indeed ‘doing it for the money’.

Why do they think this? Well, quite possibly it’s because there does seem to be a small minority of carers who have revealed themselves to be ‘financially driven’, shall we say, by the opportunity, and as with anything, it tarnishes the good name of everybody else.

Deciding to apply to be a foster carer based on finances reveals a huge character flaw which straight away rules you out as suitable for the role – hopefully not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of your assessing social worker, who will surely figure you out. However, can you really blame these people when agencies out there are all too often using the financial aspect of fostering as the ‘hook’ to get people involved?

When you buy a new car, you start seeing loads of that make and model on the roads wherever you go. Similarly, when you start the application process for fostering, you start hearing all the adverts on the radio advertising the opportunity. What a lot of them have in common is the fact that they use key marketing phrases such as “you’ll be financially rewarded” and “there are generous rates of pay on offer” in order to draw people in. Not only is it immoral, but it’s incorrect.

Yes, you get paid – it’s a vocation for god’s sake. I’m not a martyr, and I won’t sit here and say the money doesn’t help, but if money is your main motivation, then a) you really shouldn’t be taking on the responsibility of a young person’s health and happiness, and b) you are about to be sorely disappointed with your remuneration! I need to say at this point that with our agency, we heard about them through word of mouth. Had they ever produced a radio ad similar to the ones I’ve mentioned, I certainly wouldn’t be choosing to write for them now.

Again, yes, you get paid, but I think people forget that whilst you do indeed get an allowance each week for the child in your care, you’re pretty much obligated to spend it caring for that child! Funny, that!

Admittedly, unless you’re taking your child out every day, night and spoiling them with gifts, treats and new stuff all the time (which is lovely by the way), then not all of that allowance will be needed directly. However, there are things you have to keep in mind that aren’t directly spent on the child at one time but still cost money, such as the fact that your bills are indeed going to rise quite significantly; the water bill is a main one through washing clothes and having baths and showers, and don’t even get me started on WiFi! If you have an extra person in your home, you’re going to see a financial impact. This isn’t news.

The main issue that astounds me though, is that people really don’t take into account the fact that it is highly likely that one of you (if you are in a couple) will need to give up your job, or at least significantly reduce your hours, in order to care for that child! Yes you may receive X amount of funding per week for that child, but if you give up a job of average salary in this country, you’ll be losing twice that amount from your employment.

Some of you at this point will be thinking, well why would you need to give up your job? Let me enlighten you. Please remember that when you foster a child, it is very different to the day-to-day dealings you would have with your own child. Take for example if your child has an issue at school. If it is your birth child, you may send for a grandparent, uncle or friend to pick up the child and take care of them before you then deal with any issues later on when you get in from work. You can’t do that with a foster child. The friend or relative may not be competent in dealing with the situation, nor may they want to, depending on the issue at hand.

It is very unlikely that with a ‘looked after child’ the school will let them go home and be happy for you to deal with the situation later. No, you’ll likely be summoned to a meeting where you’ll be met with senior school staff, concerned looking social workers, staff from ‘support’ agencies you never knew existed, and amongst all of it, one very scared, insecure and confused child – regardless of what they have or haven’t done. Do you think your employer would let you do this twice a week throughout the term if it came to it? Do you think he or she would let you leave the office on a whim because a social worker has decided they want a meeting, or because birth mum has decided she wants to see her child, or because you have to be in court for an indeterminable amount of time for something you’d really rather not disclose to your boss in the first place? Even I’d struggle to be so flexible with my own staff as an employer, given the complexities of the demands presented.

So, if you’re interested in fostering because of the money, I hope this puts you off, because even though the world needs more foster carers, it needs the right people to do it. A good start would be for agencies to re-think the way they present their ads. But that’s a blog for another time.

Jo and Ste webJo is back with another update, this time she tells us about her decision to foster teenagers.

If you read, enjoyed or shared my last post for Capstone, then chances are you’re one of those wonderful people who are supportive of a person’s choice to foster and understand their reasons to get involved. For this, I thank you – you are amazing.

However, will you be as enthusiastic when I tell you that my husband and I have specifically chosen to foster teenagers?

It’s a statement that gifts us a wealth of surprised/stunned/mortified faces upon delivery. After all, most people don’t even want to share a home with their own teenagers, do they?!

We realise that it’s a ‘niche’ group we’ve selected in terms of the fostering process, but it’s a demographic we were set on supporting long before we even decided to foster. We’ve both always worked with teenagers in our careers in teaching and coaching, and we’ve both always volunteered with such kids in our spare time projects as well; both via the virtue of our qualifications and through the genuine pleasure we get seeing these kids grow up into young people with futures that are hopefully a little brighter as a result of the impact we make. Yes, teenagers are often moody, have to get their own way and have trouble putting themselves across in a socially acceptable way, but then, I’m guilty of all those things too! And as for my husband, well – he married me!

I write this blog as I read through messages from some of my teenage scholars who I manage on an education programme at a local semi-pro football club. They’re amazing and I adore them, but I’m replying to said messages with instructions that I’ve already given out twice within the last hour, I’m deciphering responses that defy any concept of coherent Standard English, and I’m met with hesitance and a little apathy despite the fact I’d actually contacted them about something I believed (heaven forbid) they might enjoy.   It’s hard work.

Personally though, I find baking harder work. Why do I mention this? Well, we all have skills. Some people will no doubt make brilliant parents because they can bake, sew, paint murals in nurseries and sing songs to soothe away pain. I can’t do any of these things, and nor do I want to. I’m less Mary Poppins and more Liam Neeson in Taken, but honestly, who do you see teenagers responding better towards? I know where my skill-set lies and I’m not afraid to use it. If there are teenagers out there who desperately need someone who has the resilience, focus and determination to help give them a second chance at the childhood they were denied and the adulthood they deserve to have, why wouldn’t you want to help if you were able?

Funnily enough, I was initially trained to work with the opposite end of the spectrum – I was a play leader and a primary school teacher in my post-grad years. However, most people who go into fostering want to go for those lower age groups when they seek to take on children. Perhaps it’s viewed as more enjoyable? Maybe they feel younger kids are easier to manage? Very few carers are willing or able to reach out to the teenage referrals though, and so these kids end up nowhere, and often go on to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. How is this fair? What will become of their own children if they have them? These are questions that, given my history, experience and skills, mean that I simply cannot justify giving up on a teenager.

I should be clear and state that I can’t go as far as saying that I find teenagers ‘easier’ to deal with than little kids. Not the case! Even after you’ve built a good relationship with them, which my husband and I have always been able to do, teenagers will almost always either passively or aggressively disregard any advice you give them and will refuse to accept the notion of a bigger picture; instead holding on to their priorities, opinions and convictions in the here and now with an unfaltering grasp. Frustrating as this all is, it is exactly the reason I love working with them. They might not know what they want, but they sure as hell know what they DON’T want, and they won’t let those things hold them back.

Don’t you agree, we could learn a lot from our teenagers?

Jo and Ste were recently approved as foster carers. Jo has written the below for anyone who is thinking about what the assessment and approval process of becoming a foster carer is like…

Jo and Ste web

My husband and I have recently been approved as foster carers through Capstone Foster Care.

I could list tens of different emotions we enjoyed and endured throughout the assessment stages, but my offerings here focus on the wake-up calls prospective foster carers face in this process.

  1. Not everyone will be supportive of your choice and actions

Whilst I view fostering as kind, brave and ultimately selfless, not everyone shares this positivity. There will always be someone on your radar who does not fully support your choice. In my case, it was my own mum (in the beginning), but whilst this was upsetting, it wasn’t half as annoying as the people I barely knew who were more than happy to seek me out in Tesco and demand “Why don’t you just have your own kids?”

  1. You’ll hear a lot of misconceptions and face some really ill-chosen words to support them

Many people confuse fostering with adoption, so this is a misconception I’ve had to explain frequently. You’ll also be helpfully informed on a regular basis that “all foster kids are troubled” (usually as you watch your critic’s own precious angel scream blue murder over a lost biscuit) and it will irk you that you have to deal with poorly worded questions such as “When do you get to give them back?” It’s great when questions come from those who genuinely take interest, but sadly, there are a lot of people out there who just want gossip.

  1. Your fertility will be questioned

When you’ve had enough of everyone else questioning your fertility and your plans to have your own children, unfortunately in the case of your social worker and the assessment panel, this is a legitimate topic of conversation. Don’t even get me started on how much I take offence to the phrase ‘childlessness’, but overall, I understand the conversation. This hurts to talk about and it’s uncomfortable to sit through, but then again, so is childbirth!

  1. You’ll get upset/annoyed at least once during the process

Getting upset/annoyed is pretty much a regular occurrence for me anyway, but this was heightened during the fostering assessment process. You’ll become frustrated with people’s attitudes (see previous point), you’ll disagree with your loved ones (see next point), and you’ll have to answer questions/talk about issues that ordinarily you’d save to offload on your best mate after a glass of wine and a bucketful of tears. There are some things you’d rather not talk about at all, but this doesn’t help your case, so prepare to toughen up to this.

  1. Arguments will be caused

My husband and I are incredibly different in our parenting styles. He deals with conflict calmly, whereas I am a little more intense, shall we say! On several occasions, we found ourselves disagreeing over responses to our social worker’s questions. These interviews are not the best time to rip apart the issues and delve into your differences, but that’s what you’ll feel like doing. I stand by this being a perfectly natural thing to do though, as I just do not believe couples who say they never disagree – especially when talking about family!

  1. Your home will need to be adapted in some way

I would like to think that I have a warm, welcoming and safe home, but I still tortured myself for a week after I’d realised I’d left the top off a bottle of antiseptic in the bathroom when our social worker had visited. She probably didn’t even see it, but part of her job was indeed to (sensitively) highlight issues. Amid the changes that are helpfully suggested to you (a sturdy lock on the bathroom door, a key rack by the front door, CO2 monitors on each floor), you’ll start believing that everything in your home needs changing. (It really doesn’t).

  1. You’ll be hit with some truths

Capstone have surprised me greatly in their approach to dealing with potential new carers. Yes they support and encourage, but they also give the honest answers and key information regarding things you may not really want to think about – placement breakdown, allegations, paperwork and the stress of dealing with agencies who you may find more hindrance than help. You may not want to hear this kind of stuff, but for the sake of being prepared and resilient as a foster carer, you really need to.

  1. You’ll find out exactly what people think of you

Once you have been approved by the panel, your social worker will give you access to the references they collected on your behalf. We enjoyed reading over these as we celebrated, as it was lovely to read about the faith that all those who knew us best had in us. It’s a little cringe-worthy too, though, when you collate the fact that nearly all of them have spectacularly hit upon your flaws. Mine included endless references to the fact that I speak my mind, challenge authority and have high expectations. In other words, I’m a nightmare.

  1. The process is worth taking time

Our assessment process took just under 12 months. Where others may view this as lengthy, I was glad of the timeframe. It gave me confidence that Capstone were being thorough in their assessment and were investing proper time and resource to prepare us for this life-changing event. There are so many agencies looking for carers, and those worth their salt know that for the benefit and stability of the children in their care, fast tracking is never an option.

  1. You’ll be surprised how many people out there are fostering!

For every one person who doesn’t offer the support for your choice that you’d like or expect, there will be countless people who are delighted for you, bestow praise and offer support. Some of these people will even tell you that they know someone who is also fostering! Not only is this lovely to hear, but it will remind you that your access to a support network is getting bigger by the day. Personally, I know I’ll benefit greatly from this future support!

If you’ve read this and you’re still interested in fostering, then I know you’re the right person for this process. Embrace the challenges, because resilience is a fantastic quality in any foster carer.

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