How to foster – everything you ever wanted to know
Becoming a foster carer is easier than you might think. It is also more rewarding than you can imagine. If you are new to the idea of fostering, chances are that you are caught up in some of the more common myths about what fostering is and isn’t.
This article is a brief but very detailed guide to everything you ever wanted to know about becoming a foster parent.
What is a foster carer?
Let’s begin by looking at the role of a foster parent. This is a person who steps into the parental role for a child in care. They might be the parent for a day or until the child ages out of foster care.
Your task in the role of parent to the child or young person is to provide an environment filled with love, patience and caring, that can provide a positive future for the young person. You will be actively involved in the child’s education, health care, and socialisation.
A foster carer is a flexible person who can accept that there are often problems for which they might feel unprepared. The trauma of the child’s experience in life so far might cause the child to have emotional or behavioural issues.
You are also a team player working with other members of the team – social workers, educators, coaches, friends, parents of the child’s friends, and health care professionals.
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Should you become a foster carer?
Ultimately, you are the only person who can answer this question.
There is a huge demand for emotional energy when you foster. Consider this: The children that will become part of your family are often traumatised. They probably have been removed from their birth families by the local authority because they have been abused or neglected.
You open your heart to the child who is now living with you and the child is sullen and behaves in a manner that is challenging. You know that the child has lived with abuse and family dysfunction. You are prepared to provide a caring and safe place where he or she gets to see how a functioning family behaves.
To make it easier to visualise, let’s call the child Robbie. He’s 11 years old and his single mother became addicted to drugs. Robbie has been the man of the house and now, here he is, in a strange new home. Instead of being grateful, he is resentful. He shuts himself in his room and refuses to talk to you.
Can you handle such a situation in a caring and communicative way? Are you good at verbal and nonverbal communication? Can you hear what Robbie is saying in his unspoken words?
There is another situation that you should think about. Suppose you work through the anger and resentment and the behavioural problems with Robbie and he lives in your household for nearly two years. Then his mother has successfully recovered her life and Robbie is ready to return home. It could easily be heartbreaking to see him go.
That, however, is part of fostering.
It is a good idea to talk to your family and friends about fostering and listen to their feedback on whether they think you are a good candidate to be a foster carer.
Fostering is an important job
There is an urgent need for foster carers because, on any given day in the UK, there are about 10,000 children and young people needing foster homes. There are more than 80,000 in care and these 10,000 are the ones not yet placed.
It is important to realise that fostering is not just about doing a good thing for the future of the children. Fostering is a career. As a foster carer, you are a self-employed professional with professional qualifications. There is a slight difference from other professions, for example, while you are a professional carer, you can’t command your own fees, set your own hours, or put yourself in the marketplace with your skills.
You are on call 24 hours a day and to top it off, there is no guarantee of placements.
On the other hand, you are changing lives, one child at a time, using your intrinsic nature and common sense. You may be on duty 24/7 but you also have a great deal of freedom with your line of work. You are able to work from home and schedule your day to suit yourself and have the freedom to be free from financial pressure as you care for your foster child.
How to start your fostering journey
The first step is to make contact with your local authority or an independent fostering agency such as Capstone Foster Care. After you contact Capstone and can say yes to our very first question, the process begins.
What is the very first question? This may surprise you, but it is not about you or your reasons why you want to foster. It is about your home. Do you have a spare room? That is the first and very important question.
After it has been determined that there is a bedroom available for a child or young person, questions about you begin. Ideally, you are 25 years old or older, however, depending on the circumstances, you could be as young as 21.
During our initial meetings with you, we explain all the necessary requirements and explain the assessment process. We need to know that your interest in the wellbeing of children and young people is sincere. Once these preliminaries are underway, Capstone will delegate a social worker to carry out a Form F assessment.
The Form F assessor evaluates the amount of energy and time you have available as well as your level of health. A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check will be carried out on all household members over the age of 18. The assessment, which can take up to six months, is progressive. The social worker will analyse factors such as your previous experience of working with children and your existing skills.
The social worker will also visit your home and family a half a dozen times or more to construct an accurate picture of your home life. They will interview you and members of your household. If you are a couple being assessed as foster parents, each of you will be interviewed separately as well as together.
While the assessment is taking place, we will keep you updated on the progress of your application and training sessions will be provided to help start your fostering career. At these sessions, you will meet other applicants as well as experienced trainers.
When the social worker has completed the assessment, they will prepare a report that is turned over to an independent panel that will assess your application.
The fostering panel
All fostering agencies must create a panel of people to offer experienced and knowledgeable feedback about the suitability and capability of potential and current foster carers. The fostering panel meets regularly to consider the information presented to them about the suitability of the people who have applied to become foster carers.
At Capstone Foster Care, the majority of the panel members are not in our employ. They are independent of Capstone, which ensures that they can be objective. This is important because their role is to help us improve our practice and services to children and young people.
The fostering panel assesses the quality of information collected and presented about families applying to be foster carers. You meet the panel and the members will ask you specific questions. This gives you an opportunity to be part of the final decision and gives the panel a chance to get to know you and ask any final questions should they want clarification.
The fostering panel then provides its recommendation to Capstone Foster Care. Note that this is only a recommendation and Capstone’s decision maker makes the final decision based on the panel’s recommendation.
The training programme begins
Capstone is well aware that our foster carers are the most valuable resource we have. We make all efforts to ensure that they are given everything needed to enhance, support, and develop the tools and skills that will allow them to do their job to the best of their ability.
The ‘Skills to Foster’ course is where training begins during the assessment period. This course takes place over two to three sessions and gives you an understanding of what foster carers do and provides guidance on the needs of children and young people in foster care.
You will learn ‘survival techniques’, first aid, safe caring, and how the placement process works. The course will also help you prepare for the panel as well as explain some of the financial details behind foster care.
Once you are approved, you will be encouraged to attend training sessions to improve and develop your skills. Some of the areas where the additional training comes in very handy are in dealing with attachment disorders, challenging behaviour, and self-harm. You will also learn about safeguarding children and internet safety, as well as disability awareness.
Capstone has an extensive range of training sessions, from learning about gang culture to understanding autism and Aspergers.
Your first placement
Upon approval as a foster carer or foster family, you will be given your first fostering placement. With every placement you are supported by a Capstone supervising social worker who will meet with you regularly. It helps to know how a foster carer is chosen for a specific child in care. It is very important to Capstone that we get the best match between our foster carers and the children or young people in need of placements.
This is how the process works:
- A local authority contacts Capstone to discuss the children and young people who need a foster care placement and enquire about the availability of suitable carers.
- We gather the information and background details from the authority. This is called a referral. We pass the referral information to our social workers. The social workers know the foster carers they work with and which ones are the most suitable match amongst the available foster carers.
- The available foster carer who has skills matching the child’s needs is contacted. The social worker and the carer discuss the placement in detail. A foster carer is not obligated to accept any children if they believe the match is not a right fit for their family.
- If the foster carer is willing to support the child or children, we provide the local authority with your details and ‘Form F’. The carer is kept up-to-date at each stage of the placement process.
- If the Local Authority agrees that the carer is a suitable match for the child or young person, the carer, Capstone and the local authority liaise and plan the placement.
- At this point, arrangements are made for the child or young person to visit and move into your home.
A social worker from Capstone will be present to support you when the child or children arrive at your home. The social worker also visits within the first few days of the placement to see how things are going and to offer further support.
Why choose Capstone?
Capstone takes great pride in our “national expertise, local support” ability. We say this because we are able to offer new carers the resources and stability of a larger agency, as well as the local, person-centred attention from a small agency too.
We have more than 500 carers across the country. With 16 offices and approximately 100 committed staff members supporting those 500 carers. We know all of our foster parents personally and we focus on having a distinctly family feel in all our local offices.
And yet, because of our large infrastructure, we have access to experts in a variety of areas. An example is our Multi-disciplinary Assessment & Treatment Service (MATS).
There are many issues that our team can help with, including challenging behaviour, inability to regulate emotion, barriers to educational engagement, fears, phobias and anxieties, low self-esteem and self-worth, learning difficulties, speech and language difficulties, suicidal intent, self-harming behaviours, child sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol misuse, and eating difficulties.
We are equipped to be there in a family relationship with our carers while offering the best support available.
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