Fostering as a Career
Make no mistake about it, fostering is a career. It is a professional choice to work in a field where you are at the very heart of what makes a child thrive, a community flourish, and a society grow in strength. For many people, fostering is life-changing not just for the child in care but for the carer.
There are about 10,000 children who need people like you in the UK. There are more than 80,000 in care and nearly 60,000 of these are already in foster homes. The 10,000 who need you are those for whom there is no foster family. This is because there is a shortage of foster carers in the UK.
If you have worked in the care sector or services industries, maybe you have already thought about fostering. Many people do think of fostering after being in these industries. However, you do not need to have this type of experience to become a foster carer.
People have become foster carers with backgrounds from many different professions. There is a wide range of professions, such as teaching, nursing, and emergency service like the police that provide the skillsets that can enhance your ability to foster. But that’s not to say that office workers for instance, cannot make great foster carers too!
What if I am Still Working?
If you are still working and want to foster, the short response if you are single is, no. Fostering is a full-time job. But, at Capstone Foster Care, we are willing to discuss the circumstances. Some fostering arrangements involve a predetermined period of time. In this type of situation, you could work at a full-time job separate from your foster care responsibilities. A respite foster carer will know in advance when their fostering services are required and can schedule their work accordingly.
Outside of respite foster care, it is not possible to know when local authorities take children and young people into care, so there is no prearranged time set for when foster care is needed.
A foster couple has more flexibility when it comes to working while fostering. One parent could always be available for the child’s needs while the other one is at work outside the home. A single parent who works full time is apt to have difficulty fostering and working.
As well as providing a home and affection to the foster child or young person, a carer must be readily available for meetings with the foster agency social worker, the child’s teacher, and other personnel involved in protecting the child’s welfare and well-being.
The reality is that when you become a foster carer, your first responsibility is to the child in care and this is a 24/7 responsibility. Fostering may be a sporadic job and there could be times when you might not have a placement. When there is no placement, there is no payment.
Fostering is a career. Foster carers are reluctant to jeopardise the stability and security of the home they offer to a foster child by being distracted by another job. While foster carers are paid a professional fee for a professional task, and fostering can be considered as a career, fostering is not first and foremost about the pay.
If making a difference is something you strive for, think about fostering. The rewards outweigh the challenges. One of Capstone’s carers, Lesley, put it this way, “As a foster carer you don’t leave work at 5pm, go home and switch off – this is a 24/7 job and you get out of it what you put in. If I were asked to go back to a 9-5 job the answer would be ‘definitely not’.”
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Do You Have the Foster Carer Personality?
The secret to success in any job is to love what you do. If you wonder what it takes to be a foster carer, look into yourself. Before talking to Capstone, your local authority, or any other independent fostering agency, there is one important step you should take.
Talk to your family and friends. Ask them what they think about you being a foster parent. These are the people who know you best. They will tell you what their thoughts are. You may not agree with them, but they will give you a point of departure for thinking about your suitability to foster.
In case you want Capstone Foster Care’s experienced opinion about the personal characteristics a foster carer needs, here is what we, and many other agencies, have learned.
- You need to have strong communication skills. You must be able to communicate with the child in care with patience and in a timely manner. When you do so, you must listen to really hear what the child is trying to tell you. You will need to communicate with the foster agency in a clear and pertinent manner, you will have to communicate with your friends and family, and you will have to communicate with your foster children. Communication is a two-way street and part of good communication is the ability to listen and hear what is really being said.
- Because working as part of the fostering team involved in the child’s life is a large part of your job, you also need to be cooperative. You are the person on the front line, interacting with the child on a daily and ongoing basis, you are one component of the entire process. Your cooperation involves taking advice from, and providing proper feedback to, the rest of the team.
- Another essential quality is compassion. The children and young people in your care may have been through trust-shattering experiences, which may have negatively affected their behaviour. Compassion gives you the ability to understand their feelings and reactions, which is part of the fostering process.
Your compassion must extend to understanding the turmoil the child who has come into your home has been through. The child might reject your attempts at making your home a safe refuge. Their own views of life have come from their family history and experience within the system, creating a higher level of distrust than you are used to seeing.
- You need to have a good understanding of your home and family life. Saying you have enough physical space for a troubled child in your home is one thing. Understanding the huge amount of psychic space a child can take up if he or she has been through a difficult time is another. Do you understand how much your entire family accepts the idea of opening up your home to a new person? How dedicated they are to being a foster family?
- Last, but not least, you need patience. Fostering is a full time, day and night job. We all get tired and feel overwhelmed. You must have the inner strength and resources to be patient when you are tired and overwhelmed. Remember, if this ever happens, you are part of a team.
For some people, these skills are a natural part of their personality. Others need to work on these special skill sets. One skill set that may concern you is that you have no experience in looking after children. If you have looked after children, you will have a stronger sense of the commitment and energy that is needed.
Don’t worry about having no experience working with children. Our training helps you with this concern. Our training courses are delivered by professionals and are ongoing. There is a variety of courses and the Core Training is mandatory.
Where Should I Start?
You can start with answering the first question which is, do you have a spare room? If you do, the next step is to contact an independent fostering agency such as Capstone Foster Care to discuss applying to be a foster carer.
A lot of people are afraid to take this step because they eliminate themselves for reasons that don’t matter at all. To answer some of those questions before you ask them, here is a brief explanation of who can be a foster carer:
Your marital status is not a factor. You can be single, married, in a civil partnership, gay or straight. The only age requirement is that you be over 25 and even this can be lowered to 21 if circumstances warrant it. You must be in good health.
You will undergo a health check and everyone in your household over the age of 18 must have a police check. A social worker will visit your home about half a dozen times. You will be interviewed and if you are a couple applying to foster, they will interview each of you separately and together.
What Does a Fostering Career Involve?
Your job can be summed up this way: “Your job is to build brighter futures.” As a carer, you are integral to supporting a child to achieve positive outcomes. You are acting in place of the birth parents. You accept the young person into your home as part of the family.
You are never alone in caring for the child. You will work with a group of professionals and be involved in advocating for children’s needs. The Capstone network of experts and support is part of your team and you are part of theirs. Capstone Foster Care offers support 24/7.
There is always someone on call, morning, noon, or night and our staff knows our carers personally. We have a network of carers who will understand the journey you are on. Capstone is a reputable organisation with over 150 staff and 650 carers, so this is a big and knowledgeable network that is also small enough to know who we are working with at all times.
Things You Need to Know About Fostering
The average length of a child’s stay with you is a little more than a year. You rarely know in advance how long the stay will be. A short-term placement can develop into a long term one which can become a permanent placement. The child might be with you until they reach leaving age or they might be gone in a matter of weeks.
There is something else that you need to know about choosing fostering as a career. As a foster carer, you are considered a self-employed professional with professional qualifications but even as a trained carer with all the risks involved in being a professional carer, you do not have the ability to command your own fees or set your own hours.
You work hard, being on call 24 hours a day. That is, when you have a child in your care. There is no guarantee of placements.
There are tax benefits. You are allowed a fixed tax exemption of up to £10,000 per year, prorated for time you were fostering during the year. The exemption is for the foster household not for each foster carer in the household. As well, you are eligible for tax relief for every week a child is in your care at the rate of £200 per child per week for a child under 11 and £250 per child per week for a child over 11. You may be eligible for class 1 and class 3 National Insurance credits.
There is a great demand for foster carers. If you choose fostering as a career, you are entering a field where you are needed. It is a professional area where your skills are valued.
The ongoing training provided helps you grow into a carer with specialised skills which brings you the reward of working with children for whom you have the personality and training best suited to their needs. Children with special needs, educational challenges, emotional disabilities, and physical disabilities need foster carers with specialised training and skills.
Don’t count yourself out based on a misconception of who can be a foster carer. If you have questions or concerns that have not been answered here, get in touch with Capstone Foster Care. We are eager to talk to you and answer your questions.
Becoming a foster carer is a highly desirable career move to make, both for yourself and for the thousands of children in foster care who need a home right now.See more articles…