There are many reasons why a child might need fostering. Perhaps their parent needs to visit hospital, or recover from illness or addiction; or maybe that child is a teenager who is going through problems at home. Some children, abused or neglected, are removed by a court order while an assessment is made whether it’s safe for them to return home.
There are different ways to foster too.Emergency placements provide a place for young people to go immediately, no matter what hour of the day or night. Short break/respite sessions are often arranged for disabled children, where an adult will look after a child maybe one weekend a month, giving their regular carer a break.
Then there’s short-term fostering, which is just for a few days, weeks or months; whereas long-term fostering provides a safe, secure environment for a child who cannot go home but can still maintain a relationship with their family.
Mother and baby fostering gives very young mums support and help; remand fostering is for young people awaiting court cases.
Jackie Franklin has been a foster carer in Bristol for 26 years. She says: “I’ve loved most of my time as a foster carer, although there have been a few heart-breaking moments. It’s knowing you can make a difference. My whole family has gained from the experience, because it’s not just me, the whole family is involved, from my kids to the wider extended family. My kids have had to make some sacrifices but have gained and learned a huge amount.”
Claire and Louise (not their real names) are a couple who’ve decided to foster. “We’d been talking about fostering then we saw an advert saying social services were desperate for respite carers,” Claire told me, “so we rang up.”
The process started with a home visit from a social worker, who gave them information and checked the house. They then attended an introductory day followed by a six-session course. “It almost felt like the course was designed to put you off,” said Claire, “presenting all the worst case scenarios and testing your commitment. But there was a really good, diverse mix of people there – other same sex couples, black and white people, single people, an older lady and a young single mum.”
Almost ten months after their first contact Claire and Louise met again with a social worker, this time for a series of six weekly sessions of in-depth interviews, both together and separately. “We’ve talked about our jobs, what support we have, our commitment to equal opportunities, discussed our beliefs, our own childhoods and motives,” says Claire.
All potential foster carers are also police checked, and the home risk assessed. Jackie Franklin is adamant that the fostering family benefits from this induction.
“Some foster carers say the process can be intrusive, but they understand why it’s got to be done. And sometimes it brings up issues for families that they wouldn’t necessarily discuss, but the process encourages them to do so in a positive way, which is good.”
The social worker will write up a ‘portfolio’ following the sessions, which will be presented to a panel of social workers, foster carers, health and education professionals. When they give the final “yes” that means acceptance as approved foster carers and placement on a register. “After that its anybody’s guess how long it might take before our first foster child,” says Claire. “But in theory it could be the very next week.”
Once you’re accepted there’s more in-depth and specialised training available. Many fostering services give applicants the chance to meet existing carers. “It was fantastic that during the course there was an experienced foster carer there to give their real life experience,” says Louise. “The same carer arranged an open house after the course where we met lots of other carers and asked questions – got the low down on what fostering really means. It was really good. There seems to be a strong support network once you’re accepted as a foster carer.”
Foster carers receive an allowance to cover the cost of looking after a foster child, and around half get an additional fee for their time, skills and experience. “We found that money is available for setting up, carpeting and furnishing a bedroom, and there’s the allowance, but we’re really not looking at that as ‘earnings’,” says Claire. “To us it’s clear the money is to buy the things for the child, or if there’s any spare to save it for them. We plan to customise the bedroom for each child, letting them choose their own duvet covers, have things that they can take with them when they leave.”
It’s estimated that every day 40,000 children and young people are fostered nationally but the Fostering Network estimates there’s still a shortage of at least 8,200 foster families in the UK.
The Fostering Network: www.fostering.net
BAAF (British Association for Adoption & Fostering): 0207 593 2000 www.baaf.org.uk
Fostering information line: www.fostering.org.uk
Claire and Louise have since been accepted as foster carers…
First published issue 45 (Summer 2006)
Written by Beccy Golding
Disclaimer – details correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.