Frequently Asked Questions about being a Foster Carer
WHAT IS FOSTERING?
Fostering means looking after children or young people in your own home for either short or long term placements, or for periods of respite, whilst their families are unable to provide care for them.
Whenever possible, children return to their birth family, but if they are unable to do so, other plans are made for them, such as long-term fostering, or adoption.
Many aspects are considered before a child is placed with you and every effort is made to ensure that the child and your own family are well matched; this includes taking into account cultural and religious considerations.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOSTERING FOR AN INDEPENDENT AGENCY AND A LOCAL AUTHORITY?
Local authorities recruit foster carers to care for children and young people for whom they hold legal responsibility. However, if they do not have an appropriate placement with one of their own foster carers, they will ask independent agencies if they can offer a suitable foster home with one of their foster carers instead. Sometimes this is because the young person has complex needs, or they cannot be placed with other children in the household, or they may need to be placed in a family group together with several other siblings.
Because of the high level of need that these children present, independent agencies provide their foster carers with a very high level of support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Agencies also pay their foster carers a professional fee as well as an allowance to cover their costs; they also provide regular training and specialist support to enable carers to meet the needs of the foster child(ren) they look after.
CAN WE BE FOSTER CARERS?
You need no written qualifications to be a foster carer. You do need to have an ability to care for and protect children to the very high standards that we require. Safehouses welcomes people from all ethnic origins, whether they are married, or have a partner and irrespective of sexual orientation. We do expect people to have some experience of caring for or working with children and young people. (N.B. we do not normally consider potential carers under the age of 25). You can live in either private or rented accommodation, but it is essential that you have at least one spare bedroom which can be used for fostering. You also need to be able to drive in order to take children to school, attend meetings, training etc.
You will be required to undertake initial training along with further on-going training whilst working as a foster carer. This is a contractual obligation and enables you to keep pace with the many legislative changes that occur, whilst also improving your skills and knowledge level. In addition, we actively encourage Safehouses foster carers to gain an NVQ qualification (although this is not compulsory).
HOW OLD ARE FOSTER CHILDREN?
From birth to beyond 18 is the full range, but most of the children that Safehouses carers are asked to look after are aged between 7 and 16 years. Younger children are usually only referred to us when in a sibling (family) group and we occasionally have referrals involving young mothers and their babies. Safehouses only place children with you that match your family, preferences, skills and accommodation.
WHY ARE CHILDREN FOSTERED?
There are many reasons why children are fostered. Sometimes it is simply because their family cannot cope due to illness or bereavement, so a child needs to be looked after by foster carers for a short period of time. At other times it may be necessary to find a safe place for a child who has been living in a harmful or unhappy situation. Whatever the reason, children who are placed through Safehouses are quite likely to have suffered neglect and/or abuse, and in these cases the child may well have been removed from the family by Social Services and the Courts.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FOSTERING?
These types of fostering are the most frequently requested.
Short Term - this can mean anything from a few days to a number of months. The purpose of this type of fostering is to enable Social Services to offer support and assessment to the child’s family in order to make decisions about whether the child should return home or move to a long-term foster carer.
Long-Term (permanency) - increasingly, long-term fostering is being referred to as ‘permanency’. This type of placement is for children whose families are unable to look after them until they reach adulthood, but who will continue to be very much part of the child’s life; because of this, adoption is not an appropriate option.
There is an expectation that long-term foster carers will make a commitment to the child until they reach the age of eighteen years and beyond if necessary.
Respite - respite might be a period of a few hours, overnight or for several days or weeks. The purpose of this type of fostering is to give families help at times of crisis, such as a hospital admission, to support other carers who may need a short break from the fostering task, or to help if they have a personal situation which means they cannot foster for a brief period of time.
Mother and Baby - often if a mother is very young (a teenager), or perhaps has special needs, Social Workers like to place the mother and baby with a family who will support and care for them while the mother learns the skills and responsibilities associated with parenting. The timescale of this type of fostering can be from several weeks to several months and will largely depend on the progress the mother makes in learning to care responsibly and appropriately for her child.
WHAT SUPPORT WOULD WE RECEIVE FROM SAFEHOUSES?
We believe that foster carers should be provided with 24 hour support. Safehouses offices are open between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each weekday and an emergency phone line operates outside these hours, to ensure that appropriate back-up is always at hand whatever the time of day or night. This service operates 365 days a year.
You will be provided with a Social Worker who will keep in close contact with you and any child placed with you. The role of the Social Worker is to work with you, to offer support and advice and to ensure that you have all the available information and back-up to help you succeed in meeting a child’s needs. Your Social Worker will visit you at home on a regular basis to ensure that you are provided with a personal level of support. You are encouraged to attend group meetings with other foster carers and staff, so that you have the opportunity to discuss your concerns with others who may have had similar experiences and also to share your ideas and successes. Social events are also organised to promote friendship and support between all those working within Safehouses.
While Safehouses believes that education within a normal school setting is the best way for the majority of children, it is recognised that this can be a difficult area for some. Safehouses will help foster carers find a child a place in a local school and, when required, we can provide one-to-one tuition sessions with our own Education Case worker.
CAN WE HAVE ‘TIME OFF’?
We recognise that you, too, need a break from the demands that being a professional foster carer makes upon you and your family. Safehouses provides you with 14 days paid time off each year (called respite). In exceptional circumstances, further periods of unpaid respite may be arranged with Safehouses and the placing authority, but periods of respite would not normally be more than two weeks at any one time.
WHAT ABOUT FINANCES?
We pay our foster carers a weekly amount to enable them to provide the child with a high standard of care. This covers all costs such as food, pocket money, clothing, normal travel to and from school etc.; it also includes a payment element for foster carers.
Foster carers are self-employed and therefore responsible for their own income tax; however, our accountants will be happy to advise you on issues relating to your fostering income.