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Empty Nest Syndrome and Foster Care

Empty Nest Syndrome and Foster CareDid you know that there is a condition that often affects parents and carers called “Empty Nest Syndrome”? It occurs when children have grown up to the point of becoming adults and “leave the nest” to begin their own independent lives. Sometimes this will be when they leave home to go off to college or university and sometimes it happens when they move into a place of their own for the first time.

It can be a strange time of really mixed emotions. You feel proud that you have successfully brought your children to this stage in their lives but at the same time you miss the close connection you shared. The noise and bustle of having them and their friends in your home, being in touch with what your children got up to in their daily lives, offering them the benefit of your guidance and advice, worrying if they are out late… Some people even report significant physical and psychological symptoms, including depression and anxiety.

So what can you do about it?

You could look at the Internet; there are a range of support groups out there that might be able to help. Alternatively you could think about whether there is something proactive that you could consider which would make use of all the skills and experience you have to offer!

Did you know that there are approximately 9,000 young people currently in the care of local authorities across England who are urgently looking for the kind of family life and experiences that you are able to offer?

Could You Foster?

Fostering is one way of making an amazing contribution to society, but more importantly it gives you the chance to make a real difference to the life of a young person who, for whatever reasons, may not have had the greatest start. It’s difficult to under-estimate the impact that good foster carers can have in helping a young person turn their life around, supporting them in creating opportunities to achieve and succeed in ways they might never have thought possible.

Essentially, fostering is about providing a safe and secure family environment at a crucial point in a child or young person’s life. You as a foster parent, step into the role of being a carer for a looked after child. It isn’t like looking after your own children, and you aren’t trying to replace anyone’s mum and dad.

Sometimes you don’t get much chance to know a great deal about this young person who comes to live with you in advance, but in other situations there is more time to plan and introduce you, but each child’s case is different.

There is no way to describe the typical foster child either. Each child is unique. The one thing they all have in common is that each child is unable to live at home with their family for a variety of different reasons.

The majority of children placed with us are aged from 10 up to 18 years old. Some have disabilities and many will have some kind of behavioural difficulties as a result of their early experiences. Some young people come to us as a sibling group. Sometimes all the brothers and sisters have is each other and local authorities often wish to place them together.

There isn’t any way to know how long the child will be with you. It might be an emergency situation and the child is there overnight or until he or she can return to their family home or go to live with relatives. Conversely, the child might be placed with you for years. It is not uncommon for a short-term placement to evolve into something more permanent.

The uncertainty of how long the child will be in your care calls for flexibility and the emotional resilience to be able to love and support the young person, but accept when the time is right for them to move on, possibly back to their family, or on to adoption or adult independence. It might feel like the end but often the young person will want to maintain contact and become a part of your wider family network.

Because you have raised a family that has grown and gone, you are familiar with the cycle of loving and letting go. You already know what it is like to care for a child through the typical range of age-related behaviours. You know what it is like to need patience and how much energy is involved in really caring for young people facing today’s challenges.

You have the experience to provide a home for children who need a home.

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As a foster carer, you’re not an employee. You’re a self employed professional. You will receive training and qualifications to support you as a carer, regardless of whether you are a parent or not or if your work has brought you into contact with young people.

However, unlike being a self-employed professional you aren’t able to set your own hours, the role is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You aren’t able to set your own pay scale either. You will receive an agreed payment, which covers the costs of caring for the young person and an allowance; the “reward element” for the amazing work you do. All together this is in the region of £400 per week. The amount can vary depending on the needs of the young person you are caring for.

In addition, we aren’t able to guarantee you placements, so you will need to be sure that you are financially secure and not dependent on placement for a secure income. The likelihood of having a child placed with you does depend on where you live and how flexible you are in the placements you are prepared to consider and which you can safely care for.

As well as your allowance as a foster carer you are entitled to certain tax benefits, including fixed tax exemption of up to £10,000 per year. This is for the household so if you are a couple sharing fostering, you share this exemption. There is also tax relief for every week or part week a child is in your care. The tax relief is £200 per child under 11 and £250 per child over 11. You are also eligible for National Insurance credits, which counts towards your State Pension.

Will I Be Caring for Babies?

It depends, there isn’t a lot of demand for baby placements but it is possible. At Capstone we offer Local Authorities the opportunity to place parents and their children in fostering settings together. These might be young parents, under the age of eighteen, where the Local Authority need some time to assess the abilities of the parents to care for their baby in a safe and nurturing way. A fostering placement offers the support to young parents to learn these skills, helping the Local Authority to come to a view about the family. In other circumstances the parents can be adults, over the age of eighteen and involve one or more small child. Again the role of the carer is to provide a safe placement for the child, supporting the parents in developing their skills and enable them to demonstrate their abilities to safely care for their child. Parent and child placements aren’t easy. You need to have the physical space and the knowledge and experience to offer these time limited, challenging placements.

Types of Foster Care

It’s part of being a foster carer to learn how to handle a variety of special situations. Children and young people in care often have individual and unique needs. There are children with disabilities and many of the young people will have some behavioural difficulties as a result of their early life experiences. Caring for them requires specialist skills, ones you will learn as part of your training.

Having a speciality is no guarantee that you will always have placements that call for those skills however. The most common type of placement is short-term, which provides a temporary foster home, but don’t be misled by the name. Even with short-term placements the child could be in care until they are able to return to their birth family or can be successfully matched with adoptive carers or are ready to leave care as an eighteen year old.

Emergency care involves children who are removed from their family in an emergency. Often not much is known about the child or the situation at the moment of placement. Children in these circumstances may often be frightened, anxious or even relieved to be away from a difficult situation.

Remand is a specialised type of fostering which is an alternative to placing the young person in police custody. The aim is to prevent the child from being detained in a police environment and to enable them to be placed in a home where they are given the guidance and safety needed to get their lives on track.

Therapeutic placements can be long-term or short-term and therapeutic carers receive more training and support, including access to special support, to enable them to be able to care for young people who present more challenging behaviours.

How Does Foster Care Work?

There are thousands of children and young people who need foster carers right now. You may be wondering where these children and young people come from. How and why they are in care?

Children are taken into care by local authorities as a result of events that range from parents who love their children but just aren’t able to care for them adequately, or where there are situations of violence in the home, neglect or some other kind of abuse. The Local Authority will always have tried to work with the parents or carers of the children to find a solution that doesn’t involve taking the child out of their care. If that isn’t successful they will look into whether there are any other family members who might be able to offer them a suitable home.

If none of these options are possible, then the Local Authority may try to work with the parents without a court order, particularly if the plan is for a short-term placement with an aim for the child to eventually return home. Caring for children in these circumstances often involves a lot of work with the family, supporting contact and monitoring the impact on the child. The good news is that there are successful outcomes that see children successfully return home to their families.

In other circumstances the local authority may believe it is necessary to commence care proceedings applying to the court for a Care Order.

How do the children come to the local authority’s attention?

From a variety of sources, including anonymous referrals, concerned family members, schools that notice a child isn’t thriving. This information will be investigated and the Local Authority will take whatever action is felt to be appropriate.

The mandate of the social services department is to work with the child’s family to assess that child’s safety. The phrase you will hear a lot is “that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance.” This means the needs of the child are the most important thing to be considered and that’s something we all agree on!

Local authorities have their own group of approved foster carers but demand almost always outstrips the numbers of carers available. This is why Local Authorities need independent fostering agencies. They need to have the greatest number of carers available to make sure that every individual child has the opportunity to be “matched” with the best possible foster carers to meet their needs. Capstone is one of those independent agencies.

Now you know a little bit more about fostering, the kind of people we are looking for: enthusiastic, energised and with a compassionate approach to providing a safe home. For children who have had their lives disrupted, are you ready to talk to a fostering agency about becoming a foster carer?

It won’t be all plain sailing but the rewards are enormous, and then again can you say bringing up your own children was without any challenges? If you’ve got space in your nest why not give us a call?

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