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With record numbers of children being brought into care, Dominic Stevenson looks at what it takes to become a foster carer 

Sixty thousand children and young people will spend tonight in foster care across the UK. Fostering provides these children with the opportunity to be surrounded by people who look after them properly and who want to support them in their development while they cannot live with their own families. This might be for a few days, weeks or months, or over a number of years – some children live with the same foster carers for their entire childhoods, often while also maintaining relationships with their birth family.

There is always a demand for more foster carers and the Fostering Network estimates that during 2012 a staggering 8,750 foster families must be recruited across the UK to help find homes for all the children who need them. This is due to a rise in the numbers of children coming into care and an ageing foster carer population.

We could be facing a real crisis when looking to provide the most appropriate care for children who cannot live with their own family. All children in care need a family they can grow up with who can love them, be ambitious for them and help them achieve their potential. For a growing number, foster care is the best option. By becoming a foster carer, people can help the children they welcome into their homes to have the best possible opportunity of a positive future, do well at school and be successful in later life.

The number of children in care with statements of SEN has risen from 7,000 to 8,300 between 2007 and 2010 in England alone. There is an increasing demand for foster carers who have the skills and willingness to support a child with special needs.

The shortage of foster carers who are trained to work with children with SEN means that despite best efforts, sometimes children have to live with foster carers who may not be the most appropriate match for them. This can put a lot of strain on a relationship and may result in a child’s needs not being fully met. A well matched fostering placement can see a child live and thrive with one foster carer over many years.

Fostering requires many qualities, including resilience and a good sense of humour.Fostering requires many qualities, including resilience and a good sense of humour.Foster carer Cheryl, who specialises in looking after children with special needs, says: “I raised my own child who has special needs (Asperger’s syndrome) and I know the heartache of the problems involved, the diagnostic process and the subsequent search for correct education.

“When a child is in foster care and placed with someone who specialises in providing that kind of care, they get the understanding and acceptance that they may not get elsewhere.

“Life is a long uphill struggle, often with delayed milestones, so achieving any sort of milestone is like climbing the North Face of the Eiger for these children. It is an amazing feeling to achieve that first glimpse of enlightenment. What most children conquer as normal milestones as a matter of course can be a huge step forward for these children.”

Who can foster?

Foster carers come in all shapes and sizes and from all sorts of backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: the child’s best interest. Foster carers are single or part of a couple and come from all ethnicities. Some have their own children, others do not, and there are many gay and lesbian foster carers.

While almost anyone can apply to become a foster carer, it is important to have the necessary skills and qualities to look after a child separated from their own family. These qualities include strong listening and observational skills, a good sense of humour, optimism and resilience. Carers need to have the confidence to handle difficult situations and they should be team players with good communication skills. Foster carers also need to provide stability, through providing a welcoming home in which children feel safe and secure.

Fostering is not easy, but it offers the opportunity to make a huge difference to children and can be very rewarding. Foster carers play a key role in transforming children’s lives.

Becoming a foster carer

There are many types of fostering, including short-term, long-term, mother and baby and respite. Each one appeals to different people and you can choose the type of fostering that best compliments your life and family.

Fostering services provide all prospective foster carers with training and all carers receive a weekly allowance which is designed to cover the costs of looking after a fostered child. Some fostering services also pay a fee to foster carers for their time, skills and experience. It is always a good idea for prospective foster carers to talk to a number of fostering services to find the right package of practical and financial support for them.

Foster carers can choose to work for a local authority or an independent fostering provider. The whole process of becoming a foster carer is likely to take at least eight months from start to finish.

Ten steps to fostering:

  1. Starting point: gather information about fostering and local fostering services
  2. Choose a fostering service
  3. Find out more – attend an information session and meet current foster carers
  4. Make a formal application
  5. Start the assessment – a social worker will support the applicant through the process, carrying out a thorough assessment on them and their household
  6. Attend training – all prospective foster carers complete pre-approval training to prepare them and their household for a career in fostering
  7. Get checked out – background checks are made on all applicants as fostering services need to be sure children will be safe and well cared for
  8. Fostering panel – when all information has been gathered, a report is made to a fostering panel who recommend whether the applicant is suitable to foster or not
  9. Becoming a foster carer – the fostering service then makes the final decision about approval
  10. Finding a child – the fostering service matches a child with a new family. This could be the next day or it could take a few weeks.

Further information

Dominic Stevenson is Media and Communications Officer at The Fostering Network. For information on becoming a foster carer and to find details of fostering services across the UK, visit:
www.couldyoufoster.org.uk

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