Fostering Babies – Myth Busting
When most people think of fostering, they think of a baby being taken into care and needing a warm, loving home. It’s a primal urge to take care of the defenceless infant. It’s worthy of an extended scholarly research study to determine why fostering brings up this image of a baby being rescued at the moment of birth or shortly afterwards.
It does happen that newborns and infants are taken into care. This happens in one of three instances, more typically, and these three instances are:
- A baby is born to a mother whose previous children have been removed from her for reasons of child protection,
- The parents have drug and/or alcohol problems that prevent them from being able to care for the baby, and
- The baby has been given up for adoption by the parents and there is a period between the relinquishment of the baby and the adoptive parents stepping in.
This means that it is not impossible for foster parents to have a baby placed in their care. The placement might be for a short time before the adoptive parents are there. It might be for several months or years while the birth parent or parents straighten out their lives.
However, and this is something that any prospective foster carer must know, fostering babies is not a common occurrence. Let’s take a look at the reality of fostering in the UK.
Government statistical reports for children in public care in England during the period ending 31 March 2016 provides this pertinent statistic: 5% of all children in care were under a year old.
Since we are looking at the demographics of children in care at this point, it is interesting to get an overall picture. 15% were between 1 and 4 years old. Most of them (38%) are 10 to 15 years old, 22% are 16 or over and 21% are between 5 and 9 years old.
Since the focus here is on fostering babies, let’s take a deeper look at the reality of fostering babies in the UK.
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Parent and Child Fostering
If fostering babies is what motives you to consider fostering, there is a need for you. It is just not likely the way you imagined looking after children taken into care. You see, there are babies in care. Not many, but there are a few. One of the most urgent needs for foster carers is for those who can offer support to babies who come into care with their young parent.
This used to be known as mother and baby placement. Now it is more accurately known as parent and child fostering. It is a specialist foster placement and is the third most requested type of foster care.
The reason calling it parent and child fostering is more accurate is because it is not always a mother and a baby placement. It might be both young parents or the father who is placed with the baby. The parent might be an adult.
The child might not be a baby. He or she could be a toddler. In some cases, more than one young child and a parent comprise the parent and child arrangement. The fostering situation may begin before the birth of the child.
As a specialist type of fostering, focused training is required, and this type of placement is not necessarily where your fostering career will begin. The goal of fostering is to provide children and young people in care with an environment where they feel safe and loved and are provided with the care and support they need for a positive outcome in their lives.
When you foster a parent and child, the situation is different. The goal still is to protect the child, but you do not step into the role of parent. You play a double role in this relationship.
On one hand, you are there to help the parent learn the skills needed to be a parent and to encourage them to develop the parental skills. There are tasks involved in parenting and the young parent may have no idea what these are or how to perform them.
For example, there are health visits and appointments to ensure the baby is healthy and kept healthy. Your fostering job here is to help the parent learn these duties.
On the other hand, you must make sure that the child is safe. Sometimes there is a child protection issue and the infant must sleep in your room for its protection. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, you then wake up the parent to do what their parental duties to the child are.
Your relationship to the baby is at an arm’s length. You might feel that it would be easier to just feed the little one and change her nappies but that is not your role. You have to see that the baby is fed and kept clean, but you must help and encourage the parent to do the feeding and cleaning.
Another aspect of parent and child fostering is that you also act as an observer. You keep a close eye on how the parent is functioning and record his or her progress. You are obligated to provide feedback to social services.
A parent and child placement lasts about 12 weeks, sometimes going a little longer if the parent needs more training or more assessment of the parent’s ability to care for the baby is needed. For some parents, it is just a matter of needing to learn how to care for a baby.
A young mother with no experience of holding a baby would not have the basic knowledge about looking after her child on her own. Practical help can be offered, and the skills learned. The placement could begin pre-birth to prepare young parents for the birth of the baby. Emotional help can also be offered but it may be more complicated to help the parent come to terms with how their lives have changed by having a baby.
Foster carers do assess the parent’s ability to be a parent. They are not alone in the assessing. They work with a supervising social worker, community care representatives, children and family services, and an entire support network for social care. These members of the team help with the assessment and help transition the parent and child into life in the community.
It is a delicate relationship because the parent should be the child’s key attachment figure. The assessment and training process measures the parents’ ability to provide a healthy environment for the child. The results play a large role in whether the young parent can care for the child in the community or whether the child is placed into long-term foster care or adopted.
Sometimes the mum is barely past being an adolescent and not ready or able to care for an infant by herself. Often, being older is no guarantee of being able to handle the responsibility. In either case, she needs guidance and acceptance. Half of your energy goes to helping the parent.
Yet, the single most important part of your job is to provide the necessities of life and love to the baby. This calls for good health. A baby takes up a great deal of time and energy. And a baby can play havoc with your sleep.
There is no quiet time guaranteed during school hours as there would be with older children. This cuts into the time you need to take care of household chores, but you need this time for meetings with parents who are anxious to take their babies home.
Something else you must keep in the back of your mind. In spite of your best efforts, the baby may return to foster care on his or her own, but likely not while still a baby.
Sibling Groups and Babies
As mentioned, parent and child fostering is the third most needed type of foster care. The second most needed is sibling group fostering. While it is not usual for babies to be placed in foster care, some of them enter into care with their siblings.
Approximately one-third of children taken into care are separated from their siblings. Because the child has already been taken out of the family home, being separated from their brothers and sisters can only add to the stress the child feels.
Think about why children are removed from their homes. The events are beyond their control and are typically neglect, abuse, family violence, death, or illness. It is an emergency and often sibling groups, rather than a single child, need a temporary home. In the disruption that causes them to be taken out of their family home, all they have is each other.
When a person wishing to become a foster carer is assessed, the first question is whether there is a separate bedroom for a foster child. Any child over the age of three is expected to have his or her own bedroom. Although, if the room is large enough, siblings may share a bedroom.
Sharing a bedroom can provide comfort and a sense of security to the children who have been thrust into an unknown situation. Knowing that they will not be separated from their siblings and that they will be with someone they love, has a positive effect on their outcome in later life.
Here is another factor that the harsh light of reality can highlight. Sibling groups are not always cohesive. There can be relationship difficulties between the children due to sibling jealousies or family dynamics. At Capstone Foster Care, we work closely with our foster carers. A specialist is always available to work with the foster family and the children to make the most advantageous arrangement possible.
The stress of being taken into care can create anxiety in the children and it is possible that patient parenting skills and loving support can heal relationship difficulties. A social worker will be available, and a sibling group placement is discussed with the foster carer in advance.
About Fostering Babies
Suppose that there was a large demand for foster carers who specialised in caring for babies. Never think that this might be the easiest type of fostering. You could argue that babies don’t have behavioural problems. However, babies are often taken in care because the local authorities removed them from their parents due to substance abuse. Infants removed for reasons of drug or alcohol misuse may have long-term health problems and learning disabilities.
If the infants in foster care are in the process of transitioning into their adoptive families or preparing to live with their birth families, the foster family must meet with the adoptive or birth parents on a regular basis to prepare for the transition. An experienced social worker is a part of the transition team. The hardest thing will be letting the baby go when the time comes.
If you are thinking about fostering and want to foster babies and are willing to train and prepare for parent and child fostering or have the space for sibling groups, there are limitations on fostering for families who have children under two years old. As well, Capstone Foster Care requires that your home be a non-smoking home.
Having said that, it cannot be emphasised enough that it is unusual for babies to be referred to Capstone (or any other independent fostering agency) on their own. Furthermore, neither local authorities nor independent fostering agencies are recruiting for people to foster babies only. The small demand that does exist is met by the current pool of carers.
There are many other children in need if you truly want to foster and make a difference to children’s lives. Fostering older children may allow a foster carer more flexibility to work part time whilst children are at school. As mentioned, parent and child fostering is the third most in demand type of fostering and sibling group fostering is the second.
Guess what the number one group with an urgent need for more foster carers is. Teenagers.
If you have a spare room and spare time, think about the good that you can do as a foster carer. For more information, contact Capstone Foster Care.See more articles…