Foster care has undergone many changes in the last few years and next month’s Foster Care Fortnight [17 to 30 May] aims to encourage people to consider a career in foster caring and focuses on the skills foster carers need.
One of the main problems is a lack of suitable foster carers. According to the Fostering Network, there is currently a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in the UK.
It says just over 70,000 children and young people live in public care on any given day in the UK, almost 50,000 of whom live with 43,000 foster families.
The results of children living in care have been well documented: poorer educational achievement and life chances.
The shortage is likely to worsen after high-profile cases like Baby P, which have led to a rise in the number of children being taken into care.
Children are taken into care for a wide variety of reasons, from abuse and neglect to a family member’s short-term illness or a parent’s depression or drug or alcohol misuse.
There are two main types of foster care – short-term and long-term placements. Fostering differs from adoption in that it offers children and young people a home while their own family is unable to look after them.
It is often a temporary arrangement and many children return to their own families. If this is not possible, but they still want to stay in touch with their families they can be placed in long-term foster care.
Different fostering services have different stipulations. Newham Council in London, for instance, say foster caring is open to a wide variety of people from different backgrounds.
You can be aged 24 to 63, be from any cultural, ethnic, religious or social background, be heterosexual, lesbian or gay, live in the local area and be single, married, in a civil partnership, divorced or living with someone.
You must, however, be in good health and have the stamina to cope wtih a child plus have space to accommodate a child. If you are working full time, you can still foster, but if your foster child is aged 0-5 one carer is expected to stay at home with the child.
You can usually not foster a child which is the same age as any existing child you have as this may create rivalry problems.
It’s a big commitment to become a foster carer and one you need to research thoroughly before you take it up. Here are some of the steps to becoming a foster carer:
Firstly, you need to contact your local fostering service. This might be your local authority, which is responsible for children in care, or an independent foster agency. Both are inspected by Ofsted.
Independent foster agencies were originally set up to cater for more challenging children and those that local authorities found it difficult to deal with, such as group placements.
They have also tended to be more innovative, according to Martin Giboy, Director of independent agency Fostering Outcomes, and to offer more support networks and training.
He says they have blossomed in the last 20 years and have become more professional, offering out of hours care which local authorities are not always able to provide.
Whichever fostering service you choose, they will be able to give you full details about the process and ask questions to ascertain your suitability to adopt.
These generally are to do with your own family background and experiences, your current set-up and your support network.
You may then be invited to an information session in advance of a more detailed assessment.
The foster care service’s main concern is to protect children in care so the assessment aims to be fairly probing, finding out your motives for fostering, your own family experiences, your stickability, general character and any experience of childcare you might have.
There will be a pre-approval training course to attend and then checks will continue, including personal and professional references, local authority checks and a CRB check. Other training follows.
Once you have passed through the assessment process, which can take anything from three months to a year, a report on you will be put before a fostering panel for approval.
You will be told the outcome in writing, including the conditions of your approval. It can take several months after approval for a suitable foster child to be matched with you as the process is a carefully considered one.
Throughout your career as a foster carer you will be given regular supervision, support and training and you will be reviewed annually. Foster carers receive a regular payment which goes towards covering the cost of things such as food and clothing for the child.
This can rise according to the training and experience you have undergone or may vary according to the age of your foster child.
The Fostering Network recommends a minimum payment for foster carers, but those who work for an independent agency may receive higher payments, as will those who are fostering children with special needs.
At Newham Council in London, for instance, a newly qualified foster career can receive between £222 and £324 per child, per week, depending on the age of the child.
This will cover the costs of caring for a child or teenager and includes an allowance for the carer. Foster carers do not pay tax on their income from fostering up to a maximum of £10,000 plus allowances for the care of the child.