Mother-Baby Placements: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
It’s commonly considered that children are our most precious natural resource, as they will inherit this world well after we’re gone. Ensuring that our children are properly prepared to become the adults of tomorrow is an important job and one that needs doing. It’s why becoming a foster carer is such a crucial endeavour.
Being a foster carer is an experience that can be incredibly rewarding on an emotional level. There’s simply nothing more gratifying than knowing you’ve played a role in helping a child or young person in need by opening your home to them — and, often, your heart as well.
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Foster Caring With Twice the Impact, Twice the Rewards
All this is especially noteworthy when you have the opportunity to provide for the physical and emotional needs of not just one young life but two at the same time. In fact, if there’s an instance that a young person in the foster system needs as much care and support as they can get, it’s when a teenage girl is expecting a child.
Imagine raising a child without family support. Imagine starting life as a parent without having yet gained a foothold in the community. These are only some of the challenges that young mothers seeking foster care are grappling with.
Teen mums, or teens that will soon become mothers, are some of the most vulnerable and in need of looking after in the foster care system, save for perhaps the children of these young mothers themselves.
The highly specific needs of a teen mother and her child make looking after mother and baby one of the ultimate challenges a foster carer may face. At the same time, it’s easily one of the most rewarding as well. If you’ve ever wondered what it means to receive a mother-baby fostering, or even just what it takes to become a foster carer if you’re interested in caring for teen mums and their babies, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about mother-baby placements.
What Exactly is a Mother-Baby Placement?
The title is telling, but these special foster arrangements call for a little more explanation. There are, in fact, a few different types of scenarios in which a young mother might need foster care.
Why a Young Mother Might Need Foster Care
Pregnancy and those first months of motherhood are a crucial time. Young mothers who seek foster carers need a sensitive and non-judgemental environment in which they can focus on their baby’s health as well as their own.
Sometimes, as a result of a court decision, a mother who struggles to care for baby in the face of difficult obstacles is placed in foster care. The placement is temporary and while she’s there, she and her baby are not only supported and encouraged but also observed. The observation is for the benefit of the court and usually lasts 12 weeks. More later on how that observation works and the role you play.
The same scenario can occur when the birth hasn’t yet taken place. The young mother-to-be is often placed by her social worker and comes to a foster home to prepare for the birth. Again, there is usually an assessment component and you, as the foster carer, would play a central role in that assessment.
But the part you play is much larger than that. You’ll also act as mentor — a prenatal resource for a young woman who is undoubtedly overwhelmed by everything life is throwing at her. You can help simply by providing the basics — a stable home life, good nutrition, and someone to talk to if she needs it while she prepares for her birth.
Observe, Report, Support, Guide
We’ll talk later about the types of training you’ll have access to when you’re preparing to foster a young mother. We’ll also try and define your role a little better, since many who are new to the fostering world aren’t quite familiar with what’s expected of them. But here’s a preview: think of your role as a blend of the following steps:
Basically, the foster carer gives the right kind of help at the right time as the mother-baby story unfolds.
Other Types of Placements
If you’ve been thinking about fostering for a while, you may have run across a similar-sounding term, “Parent and Child Placement”. We’ve been exclusively directing our information here toward mother and baby placements but let’s not forget there’s often another parent in the picture.
Parent and child placements span the very wide range of what can constitute a family caring team for an infant or child. And, as the name suggests, these types of placements are for parent(s) and children, which can mean any number of things — toddlers, children, ‘tweens, plus any combination of mother, father, or both.
Sometimes it’s a father and his child who need a foster environment in which to develop their relationship. Once they build a solid foundation for a good future relationship and they can get back on their feet again, the parents who participate in this type of fostering setup will go back out into the community and begin to build a new life.
It’s really the same general plan as a mother-baby placement where the birth has already taken place. It all boils down to having time together in a stable environment where they can get to know one another without the burden of having to cope with too much stress.
What’s it Like to Foster a Mother and Her Baby?
A young mother benefits in countless ways from her time staying with a foster carer. That being said, there’s another side to this story and that’s the experience of the carers themselves. It’s certainly a journey — and one that can bring life-altering discoveries, too. As they start out on that journey, carers begin with the selfless notion of helping out some of Britain’s most vulnerable young people. Next, they go through a qualification process. Then there’s the training they receive, after which they generously open up their homes. What happens after that is a whole journey in and of itself. It goes toward providing a young mother the chance to not only survive, but to possibly thrive.
What’s it all like? We thought we’d try and give you a sense of the greater picture as well as what it’s like at the day-to-day level. Here’s what you’ll be doing should you choose the mother-baby route for your foster caring journey.
You’ll Be Helping to Keep Britain’s Families Together
Helping to keep a family together is one of the most fundamentally important contributions you could ever make. What goes into such a significant act? Simply by providing a safe, stable environment, you’re helping immensely.
But providing a stable, caring environment is just the beginning. There’s a mutual trust that you work to build between you and the young person entrusted in your care. Learning to trust is just one step of the process for a young woman who has quite a few challenges ahead of her. Together, you and she will work to build a trusting relationship that may prove to be the bedrock of her family one day. A solid start in your home with her new baby could be the launchpad to a world of positive change in her life.
You’ll be Harnessing the Strength of an Entire Community
Then there’s also the wisdom you pass along, to help in both practical and emotional ways.
That wisdom is partly the result of an entire team of supporters working to provide a good beginning for both mother and baby. We’ll talk more about that network of support later on. But just know, for now, that you aren’t in this alone. There’s no reason to feel doubtful about your abilities. You will have your own support network in addition to a wide range of resources at your fingertips. Remember, it takes a village.
Your reward is that you, the actual foster carer, serve as point person for that support team, grappling with the daily trials and tribulations — and joys — of helping a young mother bring a newborn into the world.
You’ll be Expanding Your World With Valuable, Professional Training
The rewards of foster caring are limitless but, like any demanding role you play, a support system is key. The training you receive and the knowledge you’ll gain by working within that support system will enrich your understanding of the world in a multitude of ways.
As you know, you’ll be part of a team of highly qualified professionals who, together, provide support in a wide variety of ways. There will be several areas of expertise represented by the full caregiving team, from which you can benefit. Build on that knowledge and use it, along with your foster caring experience, to gain new insights. It’s all part of helping to weave the safety net that every mother should have around her, helping, guiding, nurturing, and teaching her how to bring her baby into a better world.
You’ll be Helping Someone Learn to Put Baby First
Many of the young women who enter the foster caring system while pregnant or with newborns are barely out of adolescence themselves. With motherhood looming, the world can seem like a terrifying place for them.
Without the traditional support network behind her, a young mother in foster care feels the apprehension of giving birth and caring for a newborn more intensely than women who have the full support of a loving family as well as a circle of friends.
Regardless of her fears and apprehensions, however, she will be learning new lessons while she spends time in foster care. Her mother-baby placement is about learning to put baby first — proving that she can do it, earning the right to go out into the community one day and live a full, satisfying, healthy lifestyle that’s good for both her baby and herself.
And you’re there to help her take those steps. By providing the daily support that any young mother or mother-to-be requires, you’re giving her the confidence to focus on raising a happy, healthy baby.
You’ll be Empowering Independence
For anyone who’s ever championed the cause of empowering young women to rise above the hurdles they face in life, foster caring is the ultimate gift. Among the many things you’ll impart to the young mother who’s placed temporarily in your care, you’ll also have the opportunity to demonstrate the power of self-sufficiency.
She may have a long way to go toward complete independence at the moment, but the journey always has to start somewhere. Showing a young mother that she does have the resources within her to succeed in her new role is how you help her to take that first step.
You’ll be Watching a Young Mother Grow Into Her New Role
The essential support provided by mother-baby foster carers allows for the most fundamental of human relationships to thrive: that of a mother and her baby. It gives the mother the space, the comfort, and the support she requires in order to become completely in tune with her baby.
The benefits of this will last and reverberate throughout the baby’s lifetime. It’s a special bond. It’s one which every child born into this world has a right to experience. And it’s not a function of wealth, culture, or class. It’s a bond that a mother creates with her child in spite of how tough things can get. It’s a bond that every child deserves. In many cases, it’s formed against all odds — amidst chaos, pain, distress, and even violence. Give a young mother the basics, a foster carer who’s there to support her, and she will form that essential bond with her baby.
Mother-baby foster carers are the sole reason these young mothers have a chance to prove they can grow into their new role — motherhood.
You’ll be Growing Into a New Role Yourself
As for your role as foster carer, there couldn’t be a more important role to play, as far as making the world a better place. Each day you spend helping a young mum prepare for her birth or care for her newborn, you’re weaving an essential thread into the fabric of our society, making it stronger and better with each passing moment of your foster caring journey.
Even with all these rewarding outcomes before you as a carer in a mother-baby placement, you might still be wondering what motivates different people to choose this role. We tapped into some recent research as well as our own, informal knowledge gained from speaking to countless clients over the years.
Why do People Choose Mother-Baby Placements?
There are as many reasons people choose mother-baby foster caring as there are people.
One of the common misconceptions about foster caring is that people do it for the money. But talk to people who’ve experienced this special form of foster caring before you, and it’s immediately clear that that isn’t the case.
Since every foster carer has their own reasons for choosing this route, it’s nearly impossible to say for sure what those reasons are. But in general, all of the following motivations appeal to the kind and generous people who open up their homes to young mothers and their babies.
1. They Want to be Part of the Solution
Lots of people are shocked to hear that every year in the UK, 60 babies are abandoned. That’s more than one baby each week, left on its own by a parent who doesn’t have the ability or the resources to keep their child.
Sadly, that figure is rising. It’s a failure on many levels when a mother is forced to abandon her newly born baby. Experts who’ve studied the reasons list a wide range of reasons why mothers abandon their babies at birth:
- Afraid to tell their parents
- Social taboos
- Lack of a support network from friends, family, and others
- Fear of not being able to handle the responsibility emotionally
- Postnatal depression
- Domestic violence
- Physical disability
For these young mothers, the prospect of a mother-baby placement on the horizon opens up more options. With a clear vision of a way to get help and get back on their feet, they can maybe begin to see a way through to keeping their babies. Aided by a strong network of support and able to trust in a safe place to live where they can care for themselves and their newborn babies, young mothers are free to make the choice to keep their baby rather than abandoning them anonymously. When there are more options, outlooks can change a lot.
2. They Know They’re Critically Necessary in Today’s World
You may know that Britain is already in the midst of a foster care crisis. In England alone, there are 70,720 children who are looked after “away from home”. Of those, 78 percent are in foster care. There is a predicted need for an additional 6,800 foster families each year. Meanwhile, levels of foster carers have been in steady decline for several years now.
Council budgets are stretched beyond their ability to effectively handle the growing number of children in Britain’s foster care network.
Chief among the difficult placements are teenagers and sibling groups — that’s to be expected, as they can bring certain challenges that not every foster carer is up to meeting.
The third-most difficult placement is a parent with their child. This type of placement most often refers to young mothers who have a baby or toddler. Demand for these placements is on the rise because of austerity measures put into place at all levels of government. Foster placements account for about three-quarters of the looked-after children in England so austerity measures are having a significant impact on this segment of the population.
Only 6 percent of all looked-after children end up in placements with parents but the need is growing. At the same time, austerity measures have reduced availability of mother and baby units or shut them down altogether. The result is a push to place mothers and their babies with foster carers.
That speaks to a general consensus that keeping families together is beneficial for everyone. The help they get in a foster caring environment can lead to those families remaining together for the long term — and hopefully a lifetime.
3. They Have a Philosophy of Foster Caring That’s Right for the 21st Century
Notions of what makes a strong, healthy society change from time to time. Today, it’s generally accepted that both mother and baby benefit when they’re allowed to live together and form important bonds. It’s healthier for society at large, as well.
While that may sound like a no-brainer, it definitely wasn’t the case as recently as the 1950s. That’s when the law in Britain moved away from institutionalism and toward family-oriented solutions like foster caring.
Before that, there was really only one pathway of recourse for women who today would have been candidates for mother-baby placements. It was to hand their baby over, at birth, to London’s Foundling Hospital. Founded with good intentions in the 1700s, the institution operated for over 200 years. Although it had provided foundlings a much-needed home, as well as guidance and a proper start in life, the goals of those who ran it were substantially different from what today is considered proper or healthy.
In some cases, unmarried women were even sometimes “convinced” to hand over their babies to institutions such as the Foundling Hospital, sometimes against their own wishes. Foundlings were given new names and sent out into the world with pasts erased.Mothers were able to avoid a family scandal that would have arisen should there have been a child born out of wedlock.
And of course, mother and baby were separated, leaving both with vast empty holes in their hearts. In many cases, there was a lifelong sense of feeling incomplete and separate from the rest of the world.
“I really think if you don’t get proper love and security in the first few years, nothing can make up for it later,”
- Tom Mackenzie, Britain’s last foundling
As you can see, the foster caring system in the UK is an essential part of creating hope for the futures of Britain’s young mothers and their babies. As such, foster carers who consider taking babies and their mums into their homes are fulfilling a deeply vital role in our society.
4. It’s a Natural Fit
For some, welcoming a mother and her baby into their home just seems natural. They’re able to bring out the skills they’ve spent many years building while they raised their own children. Passing on all that knowledge is intensely rewarding for them.
They also enjoy serving as good role models. It’s a good experience for these young mums to come to understand at least one version of what a functioning family looks like. There are countless algorithms that result in happy families but at least they’ve seen what one of them looks like.
5. They Understand the Society-Wide Importance of Keeping Mothers and their Babies Together
The morales and practices upheld by foundling institutions of yesteryear pass a harsh judgement on young mothers. The stated goals, although written with good intentions, caused generations of heartache, misery, pain, and confusion.
According to institutional protocols for “abandoned” babies, these children were “cleansed” of their past. Given new names, the were thereby “legitimized”. This was done in order to give them a chance at acceptance by society. Believe it or not, back then it was considered the only solution that would put both mother and baby on a path to a “normal” life.
Thankfully, young mothers no longer suffer the harsh treatment they once experienced during Victorian times and earlier. After 200 years of working to separate mothers from babies, the collective mindset has changed dramatically. Now, we value the special bond that exists between a mother and her baby. We understand the importance this bond plays not only in their lives but as a foundation of our society as well. It seems like a no-brainer, but decades of research-backed evidence has shown that kids do better when they have at least one loving parent to watch over them.
Healthy, well-adjusted young mums and babies grow up become happier members of society. People who choose to become foster carers are helping knit together a stronger fabric of society. We all benefit when this happens.
6. They Want to Give Back
Occasionally, there are people who envision their lives as fulfilling a certain type of role — one of service. For lots of them, foster caring is an avenue through which they find satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. They’re part of the small number of foster carers who seem to be driven by altruism throughout their entire lives as they find new ways to live “a life of service” and modernize the term for the 21st century.
That being said, however, the job is certainly an emotional one. A strong desire “give back” is hardly enough to ensure someone will be able to withstand the emotional ups and downs of helping a vulnerable mother with her pregnancy or her newborn.
7. They Simply Want to Share, Teach, and Grow
Many among us are natural-born mentors, teachers, and nurturers. For some, those inclinations are persistently strong throughout their lives, resulting in a long and varied journey as they explore all the different ways in which they can share their energy with others. And for a select few, that urge to share, teach, and grow with others becomes manifested in the desire to server as a foster carer for a mother and her baby.
Whatever reasons you have coming into the foster caring role, know this. The part you play, when you share your home, teach what you know, and grow with the young mother and her baby, will reverberate throughout your life as well. The training you receive, the network of support you lean on, and the ongoing assistance you get are there to ensure that those small ripples of impact are as favorable as some of the most incredible experiences in your life.
What are the Young Mothers Like?
The women who are placed in foster care with their babies come from a wide range of backgrounds. And though we usually see young mums, there are also women in their 20s, 30s, and even in their 40s who are referred to mother baby placements.
Each needs help in the many different ways circling around the event of their baby’s birth. From nutrition to self-care to learning how to breastfeed to understanding the importance of keeping all their doctor’s appointments, giving birth and motherhood are accompanied by an endless list of responsibilities and tasks. That’s true for any mother-to-be!
But each of the mothers in a foster placement situation face additional hurdles because they are coming from challenging situations. Whether it’s poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, other other difficult and compromising situations, each has arrived at a place where their ability to raise a newborn is being questioned. Under your supervision and with your support, the mother you host will strive to prove that she is indeed capable.
She may arrive at your door bearing little trust in the system that’s brought her to you. Typically, within a short time, she adjusts to the stable environment and begins to build trust as well as a rapport with her foster carer.
Most of these mothers have been stripped of the traditional support network that typically surrounds other mothers, such as family, friends, and approval from society. Her new support network consists of you and the rest of the caring team that makes up her and your support network.
Nevertheless, they’re still individuals, imbibed with all the hopes and dreams that accompany youth. They’re also families and they have a future to look forward to if they can get through the setbacks that have landed them in foster care. They have much to contribute to society, too, if given the chance.
How is Mother-Baby Placement Different From Other Foster Caring?
Mother-baby placements stand out from other types in a few ways other than the fact that there’s a mother-baby dynamic. Primarily, there’s the assessment that you make of the mother’s progress.
What a Typical Assessment Looks Like
Foster carers who welcome a mother and baby (or soon-to-be mother) have to keep daily records of their observations.
Of course, the mother is made aware of how the process works and knows she is being observed. It’s usually helpful for the carer and the mother to communicate about their impressions of how things are going. If they find they’re on different playing fields, there’s a team of professionals to help them work on ironing out the wrinkles in their care plan.
Your goal is to help the mother learn to put her baby’s welfare ahead of anyone else’s interests. You’ll gather evidence in the form of daily observations that you will write down. You’ll share your observations with the mother. In fact, that’s an integral part of the process. Reviewing this together and the discussions that follow form an essential part of the learning process for the mother.
This data from your daily log will be added to the body of evidence gathered by other professionals when they visit. Therefore, you should expect to have regular visits from other members of the team, including social workers.
As you can see, the assessment is a compilation of the work of several team members, including yourself. It will be reviewed by a number of final decision-makers such as child protection services, a court guardian, and additional social workers.
It’s a Guiding Role More Than a Direct Care Situation
Children who have been separated from their families and who are placed in foster care need parenting and care from their foster carer. The young women in a mother-baby placement have different needs. They need supervision and guidance more than anything. Remember, this is about empowering them to live independently while caring for their babies. If the carer stepped in and got involved in the daily tasks of raising a newborn, it wouldn’t serve the goals set by care team or the foster care program. Carers will have to learn to remain on the sidelines when, for example, a diaper needs changing or the baby starts crying.
It’s key that a carer understand the nature of their role and that’s partly what the training period is for: ironing out any confusion about boundaries and how much care is to be given.
It’s also key that the mother understand those boundaries as well. This actually is a factor that’s reared its head in research done on mother-baby placements. In a qualitative survey done in 2011, both the mother and the carers reported that clarity of the role of the carer is essential to both parties. These types of questions need to be answered:
- Is the carer looking after the parent or the baby, or both?
- What is the carer’s relationship with social services?
- What is the carer’s role in assessing the parenting skills?
All three of these questions are sources of confusion for young mothers, according to the survey. The confusion over these boundary issues becomes even more acute when the mother becomes pregnant while in custody (of course, that’s a whole different scenario to be played out and isn’t really relevant here).
Preparation is Identical to any Other Role as Foster Carer
Preparing to become a foster carer specifically for a mother-baby placement is functionally the same as preparing to become a foster carer. In fact, the preliminary processes are almost entirely identical, save for expressing interest in taking mother-baby placements in the first place when you approach an independent foster agency with your desire to become a foster carer.
Your journey begins with an initial meeting between you and a representative of the agency. In most cases, this will be a qualified social worker, and you’ll have a frank conversation with them that will involve discussing your motivation for becoming a foster carer. This is your first opportunity to make your preferences known for wanting mother-child placements.
Doing so is likely to be music to your social worker’s ears, as there is often a lack of foster carers with the drive and dedication to take on such an awesome responsibility of caring for two such closely-intertwined lives at once.
Don’t fret if you feel like you might not have the proper skill set to take on such an important role just yet; as your social worker will undoubtedly explain to you, becoming a foster carer involves a number of steps, several of which provide you with opportunities for developing the skills you’ll need to excel in the job.
Opportunities to Share, Teach, and Grow
Everything that goes into the preparation and qualification process of becoming a foster carer is designed to offer you the kinds of opportunities for growth that you need to become an excellent carer for a mother-baby placement.
Let’s go further into detail on that process and explore everything you’ll learn, and everything you’ll be asked to do before you’re provided the privilege of opening your home and heart to a teen mum or an expectant teen mother.
Meeting Some Major Requirements
During that initial meeting with your agency social worker, you’ll likely be informed of the requirements set out by the Government that you’ll need to meet to be considered for a foster carer role. All of these requirements are designed with the best interests in mind for the child or young person you foster, which in turn ensure that you can safely and successfully fulfill that role to the best of your ability.
First and foremost, you need the physical space in your home to accommodate an expectant mother or a mother and baby. This amounts to an extra bedroom. In most cases, you would need a separate bedroom for every child you’re fostering, but this is not the case when in some instances, such as with siblings under a certain age or if you’re providing accommodation for a teen mum with a newborn. Your social worker can provide you with more detailed information.
Additionally, you need to provide documentation that you are physically and healthy enough to work as a foster carer. This job can often be demanding on a number of levels, least of which is physical, and being hale and hearty enough to do all the physical things that go along with being a surrogate parent — like helping a teen mum feed, change, and bathe their baby. You’ll need to visit your GP and submit to an NHS health check to satisfy the physical requirement.
Additionally, you’ll need to provide your foster agency with proof that you are financially healthy as well. This can be done by submitting documents that show you have never had to declare bankruptcy. While it’s true that you receive compensation for being a foster carer — more on that later — it’s also important to know that you are financially stable before you begin working for a foster agency. Lack of any bankruptcies in your financial history is satisfactory proof of your financial stability.
Another important requirement for becoming a foster carer involves presenting your foster agency with a number of personal and professional references. Ideally, these should be from individuals that have seen or experienced your abilities to care for children firsthand; this makes former partners that helped raise children with you ideal, as are adult children that have since moved out. Don’t discount professional references either, though, as input from work colleagues can also be invaluable in evaluating your suitability for a foster carer position.
Working Through the Process
You’re not done once you submit proof of satisfying these requirements, though. In fact, there is much more to becoming a foster carer that you’ll still need to do. This process is not quick, as there’s a vested interest in placing children in the system with the best foster carers for them and their particular needs.
If you’re serious about taking on this new responsibility, especially if you’re actively pursuing mother-baby placements, you’ll likely be gratified to discover that foster agencies provide opportunities to develop and review child care skills specifically relevant to looking after foster children. It begins with a “Skills to Foster Training” seminar, held over a two-to-three-day period, that unites a number of prospective foster carers in agency-led group sessions. These events, which usually occur over a weekend, will see you learning crucial skills, receiving answers to any burning questions, and making connections with other prospective foster carers going through the process as well.
An Extra Word on Skills to Foster Training
The Skills to Foster Training Seminar is one of the cornerstones of the preparation process for becoming a foster carer. The training you receive during this intensive weekend provides excellent foundational work for any prospective foster carer, especially one that’s aspiring for mother-baby placements. A training weekend routinely covers these crucial topics in depth:
- How foster carers help in the development of the children (or, in this case, young people) they look after
- What kinds of circumstances can lead to someone entering the foster system
- The specific types of support, such as physical or emotional, that foster carers will need to provide to the mother and baby in their care
- The importance of promoting positive identities and the role foster carers play supporting those identities for anyone involved in care
- Foster support network infrastructure that carers are encouraged to participate in to provide the best levels of care for the young people they look after
- Transition management, good behaviour reinforcement, boundary setting, relationship building, and other crucial relational skills
- Ideal approaches to help integrate those on your care into your family unit and larger circle of friends
Questions and discussion are encouraged during these training seminars. Group leaders provide encouragement and share their own experiences with the prospective foster carers who attend these seminars. As a whole, they are especially eager to provide their expertise to foster carers who express a desire to seek mother-baby placements.
The Rest of the Story
In addition to skills training, which is unarguably an essential part of becoming a foster carer, part and parcel to this process is being certified by the Government to work with children. Much in the same way that creche and nursery workers and school personnel need to satisfy the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) that they are suitable for their roles, foster carers likewise need to seek an Enhanced Closure certification from the DBS as well. It’s a reminder that being a foster carer is still considered a job, even though you may be acting, in many ways, as a parent would to a child — or in this case, a teen mother and her own child.
Speaking of certification, there’s one last but major hurdle to clear before you can become a foster carer, and that’s undergoing a thorough assessment from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). This Fostering Assessment is a lengthy and exhaustive process that begins with your social worker, takes several months (anywhere from four to six months, in fact) and doesn’t end until your social worker submits their final report to a panel for review. This same Fostering Panel, comprising several independent experts in their field, will have you attend a meeting where you’ll be given an opportunity to answer any final questions panelists have regarding your suitability as a foster carer.
Pending your performance during your Fostering Panel review, your case will then be submitted to an Agency Decision Maker. It’s his or her job to go through everything you’ve done during your time preparing for becoming a foster carer. To review, this includes:
- Providing physical space for a foster child, or in this case a mother-and-child placement
- Submitting to an NHS health check
- Offering proof of never having declared bankruptcy
- Providing adequate references
- Attending the Skills to Foster Training Seminar
- Obtaining an Enhanced Disclosure from the DBS
- Undergoing a BAAF Fostering Assessment
- Attending the Foster Panel review
If you’ve accomplished all of these goals to the satisfaction of the Agency Decision Maker, congratulations! You’ll be informed shortly thereafter that you have been accepted into your agency’s foster carer programme, with all the rights and responsibilities therein. You can now look forward to receiving your first placement, which usually occurs a few weeks thereafter.
You and Your Agency Social Worker
Before we discuss the specifics of accepting a mother-baby placement or any kind of foster placement, it’s important to note that, because of the very nature of being a foster carer, you will need to have a robust support structure at your back to provide the best level of care in turn. Caring for a teen mum who is also struggling with a newborn comes with absolute shedloads of stress for everyone, and while you will have plenty of love and support to go around for both mother and baby, there are bound to be instances when you’ll need outside help.
In such situations, your first point of contact will be your agency social worker. Foster carers are routinely assigned the same social workers throughout their tenure with an agency, and this leads to excellent working relationships being built over the months and years.
Social workers often have the answers to any specific questions you may have about any number of issues that can crop up as you’re providing foster care. Even if they don’t have a direct answer for you, you can rest assured that they can put you in contact with someone who does have the ability to answer your questions or help you resolve specific situations.
In fact, one of the most important referrals that your social worker can make for you is to put you in contact with an older, more experienced foster carer who is ready and willing to act in a mentorship to help you out with your new role. Agencies are quite fond of providing one-on-one mentorship schemes to offer new foster carers like yourself with unique viewpoints. Expert advice from experienced foster carers, perhaps even carers who have had a few mother-baby placements themselves, can be an invaluable resource to you in many situations.
That’s not the only way your social worker provides support, though. One important facet of your relationship with him or her is that together you can formulate a detailed individual development plan. Such planning helps identify your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your skills as a foster carer and provides avenues for you to develop which of these skills you feel are in need of further support. Since foster workers come from all walks of life and they all have different skill sets and experiences before transitioning into this new role, it’s incredibly beneficial to have access to this kind of structured bespoke skill development planning.
Support Structures Beyond Your Social Worker
Your social worker is an excellent resource for you and will certainly contribute to your role as a foster carer. Yet everything he or she can do for you is just the very tip of the support iceberg. There are even more resources that a good independent foster agency will provide for their foster carers, especially those who have decided to pursue mother-baby placements.
One of those resources that has the most potential benefit is the networking structure that springs up around all the other foster carers within the same agency. Foster families that live in the same general geographical area often gather at agency-sponsored events every month or even more regularly than that.
These meetups offer a number of different opportunities for foster carers and the children and young people they look after. The social interaction alone between foster children of all ages is an attractive option, especially as children within the system have unique perspectives that can occasionally make them feel left out when interacting with schoolmates and friends that are not being fostered. This allows foster children to be themselves, often without pretense — something that is highly beneficial to their development into adults.
Likewise, meetups of this nature provide excellent opportunities for foster carers themselves to create relationships with each other. Just as foster children have much in common with one another through shared experience, foster carers do as well. Forging relationships with entire foster families provides new and exciting friendships. These friendships can evolve into deeper connections in these families, such as regular “mum and baby play dates” and other such shared experiences. At the same time, they often help build camaraderie between the foster carers themselves.
Even More Advanced Help
Even with the tireless aid of your social worker, the expert advice of your experienced mentor, and the strong bonds forged between foster families at regular meetups, it’s still possible that you’ll encounter problems that need extra attention. With mother-baby placements being inherently just a bit more complex than a more straightforward foster placement, it’s no surprise at all when situations arise where that extra attention is warranted.
That’s why foster agencies always offer additional layers of advanced help in just such a complex situation. It’s not uncommon to have home visits from an experienced senior social worker during these instances. A home visit can help the agency worker more clearly evaluate the variables in play and help resolve any issues or aid in finding solutions to particularly challenging dilemmas.
Finally, and this is one often-overlooked bit of support that is provided to foster carers, your agency will provide to you two weeks of paid respite for every year you work with them as a foster carer. It’s another gentle reminder that being a foster carer is indeed a job — a career path for many, in fact — and that everyone needs some time off to recharge themselves.
Foster families often do not have the same resources as a biological family might have. That would include such resources as grandparents or relatives that are willing to provide parenting help occasionally. That’s why this respite period is so important. It’s often the difference between burning out as a foster carer and coming back after a short rest as eager and dedicated as ever. Many foster carers report that after respite, they feel even more committed to making a difference in the lives of those who need it the most. In short, you can look forward to enjoying some time on your own whilst also knowing that any children you’re looking after will be well cared for by a respite carer in the meantime.
The Financials of Mother-Baby Placements
Here’s what you can expect when it comes to the financial side of things. Making the choice to foster a mother and her baby means slightly different compensation levels, benefits, and tax treatment than for people who foster a single child or children.
Let’s start with how compensation is calculated. Keep in mind these are only guidelines. The following figures are used as a starting point for calculating how much foster carers receive when they opt for mother-baby placements. However, they represent minimum amounts and they are subject to change each year.
Compensation for Foster Carers
We’ve mentioned this quite a bit so far, but it’s worth repeating. Being a foster carer is a highly valued career, one that provides generous compensation for your time, your effort, and, in many cases, your love and support for some of the most vulnerable among us. This is true whether you’re fostering a single child, if you have a mother-baby placement, or any other combination of foster children or young people.
Compensation for working as a foster carer is calculated according to minimum guidelines set by the Government. You are compensated for every week of the year that you provide foster care in your home, and your compensation changes depending on a number of factors, which include the age of the young person in your care, where you live in the UK, and other factors such as whether they have specific or specialised physical or emotional care needs.
There is, therefore, no standard compensation rate that you can earn from being a foster carer. However, the following table can provide you with a glimpse of the kinds of different compensation amounts you can earn.
For foster carers that live in London, your weekly compensation rates are:
- £146 for babies
- £149 for children of pre-primary age
- £168 for primary-age children
- £190 for children aged 11 through 15
- £222 for children aged 16 and 17
For foster carers that live in the South East, these rates are as follows:
- £140 for babies
- £144 for children of pre-primary age
- £160 for primary-age children
- £182 for children aged 11 through 15
- £214 for children aged 16 and 17
Finally, for foster carers that live anywhere else in England, your compensation rates are:
- £127 for babies
- £130 for children of pre-primary age
- £143 for primary-age children
- £164 for children aged 11 through 15
- £191 for children aged 16 and 17
You can, therefore, suss out what your weekly minimum compensation allowance would be in the event that you receive a mother-baby placement. As you can see, it’s dependent on the age of both mother and baby and where in England you live. However, it’s important to note that these are minimum allowances and that you are very likely to receive much more than this amount for your service. That’s something that will be detailed further below.
It’s also important to note that these rates are subject to change on an annual basis. In fact, the Government reviews minimum weekly compensation rates every April. In this case, the figures quoted are the minimum weekly allowance rates for the 2018-2019 financial year. Whether these weekly rates change in the future is something that you can discuss with your social worker.
The Benefits of Working with a Foster Agency
Regarding these minimum weekly allowance figures, these payments are meant to provide you with the financial resources to provide everything that every child or young person in your care needs. However, there is one crucial fact of which you must be made aware: almost every foster carer, and especially those who work with independent foster agencies, tend to receive much more in weekly compensation.
In recognition of the valued service that foster carers provide to some of society’s most vulnerable and at-need, foster agencies have the resources to award their carers quite generously for all of their hard work. In fact, taking a page from Perpetual Fostering’s typical weekly allowance payments illustrates that foster carers for the agency typically receive anywhere from £350 to £650 a week per foster.
Where you as a foster carer would fall on that earnings scale is dependent on a number of different factors, all of which are determined on a case-for-case basis. Some of these factors can be whether a foster carer needs to provide for someone with highly specific requirements. That would include requirements such as:
- A physical disability
- An ailment that necessitates round-the-clock medical care
Carers that have advanced skills or those necessary to meet the particular needs of a specific placement are also routinely awarded a larger compensation allowance as well.
It goes without saying that mother-baby placements are often some of the most challenging placements that any foster carer can receive. The complexity of caring for a teen mum and her child requires nothing but the best from a foster carer in regards to compassion, patience, and dedication, and that means that mother-baby placements are almost always among the most well-compensated. Don’t worry — you’ll most certainly earn every penny of that weekly allowance!
Tax Relief and Even More Financial Benefits
It’s clear at this point that being a foster carer has the potential to not just be emotionally rewarding but financially rewarding as well. In the case of fostering more than one child at a time, or taking a mother-baby placement, both the emotional and financial rewards grow exponentially.
Yet that’s not the only financial benefit you receive from doing the good work of being a foster carer; you also receive a number of tax-related benefits as well.
There are two forms of tax relief that you are entitled to when it comes to your work as a foster carer.
The first is a fixed tax exemption that you receive towards the initial £10,000 you earn from providing foster care every financial year. This figure remains the same regardless of how many foster carers are in the same household.
If you and your spouse are both foster carers, for instance, you only receive this tax exemption once. It also doesn’t change depending on the number of children or young people you foster, and this figure is also subject to adjustment if you don’t serve as a foster carer for an entire year.
Weekly Tax Relief
Yet there is a secondary tax benefit that you gain access to for being a foster carer, and this benefit does change depending on both the number of children you foster and how many weeks out of the year you spend fostering them. You receive an additional £200 in tax relief every week you foster a child under the age of 11, up to a maximum of £10,400 for a full 52 weeks. This rises to £250 per week for children over this threshold, up to a maximum of £13,000.
This tax relief is additive. In other words, if you have a mother-baby placement for an entire 52 weeks, your total tax benefit would be a £10,000 exemption, £13,000 for the mother, and £10,400 for the baby. This alone amounts to £33,400 in non-taxable income from being a foster carer.
Note that your annual tax-free personal allowance cannot be applied to your earnings as a foster carer, as these tax benefits are used in their stead. However, if you maintain a work career independent of your work as a foster carer, you are still entitled to use your personal allowance to reduce your tax burden on those funds.
1. What is a Parent and Child Assessment Placement?
Sometimes the courts need convincing that a baby should stay with the mother. Assuming that’s a safe choice for both parties, the courts will allow a “trial period” of remaining together, during which the parenting and life skills are assessed. That’s where a foster carer comes in.
If all goes well during a 12-week assessment, the family unit — mother and baby — can transition into the community to begin their life together. You’ve helped save them from being forcibly separated, perhaps forever.
2. Will I have supervision?
All foster carers receive supervision that’s designed to support them in every way. From answering the questions you’ll have about the details of daily life with your placement to the bigger questions you’ll undoubtedly face, there’s a network of support and supervision for you throughout your foster caring experience.
3. Will I have to give evidence in court?
Perhaps. One of your main responsibilities is to make daily observations so you can make a detailed report. Your views become part of the social worker’s overall report to the judge and they are used in court. In some cases, you will be called in to give evidence.
4. What is a family assessment centre?
It’s the alternative to a foster carer placement, and oftentimes it’s the alternative that many are hoping to avoid. Family assessment centres are the institutional answer to the care a mother and her baby require. Foster caring, on the other hand, offer a more personalized experience with, very often, a higher level of support and care given to the needs of the young mother and her baby.
5. I’ve never fostered anyone before- what resources will I have?
You’ll have regular contact with a circle of professionals who will serve as the care team for your mother-baby placements. They are your resource and you have a mentor to whom you can ask questions, express your feelings, and from whom you can seek advice.
6. What will it be like to work with the support team?
As a foster carer, your position and the role you play exist in a middle area, roughly halfway between professional and paid volunteer. As such, you will be expected to uphold a certain standard of professionalism as you fulfil your duties but at the same time, the team understands that you’re not a professional in this arena. They will treat you with respect, they will guide you when you need it, and they will listen carefully to the input that you have to offer.
7. Will fostering a baby and a mother be hard?
Foster caring can be one of the most incredibly rewarding times of your life. But don’t get us wrong. As with all rewards, there is sometimes a struggle as well. There will be times when you feel your patience is being tried, or you won’t know how to answer a question.
But that’s what your network is for. You can reach out to them any time and use their wisdom, experience, and advice to get you through any bumps in the road that you may encounter. And take it from mother-baby foster carers who’ve come before you… the benefits far outweigh anything else.
8. What kinds of things should the mother be learning?
The court needs to know that the mother is making improvements on her parenting abilities. As such, they’ll be looking to see that is able to keep doctor appointments for her baby. They’ll need to know she’s kept all her regular appointments with members of her care team, such as a health visitor. She’ll need to be able to follow their instructions and follow up on any advice she’s received from them.
9. What happens if I feel the mother isn’t making progress?
We all like to think we make a difference, and we do. But sometimes, despite even superhuman efforts by a strong team of professionals and a wonderful foster carer at the helm, the mother is unable to meet her goals. In those cases, the baby may be put up for adoption. It can be a tough role to play but your training as well as your support team will help you get through whatever you encounter in your foster caring journey.
10. How much supervision are we talking here?
At first, there is usually a need to spend 24 hours per day with the mother but as trust is built and time passes, it often becomes possible for this regimen to loosen up a bit.
11. What’s the role of the foster agency once the placement happens?
The agency that handles your mother-baby placement has an ongoing role. This includes — but is certainly not limited to — ensuring the support you need is accessible whenever you need it. It also includes ensuring the support given meets the highest possible standards.
12. What happens when there aren’t enough people willing to become foster carers for newborns and their mothers?
Whenever possible, children should stay with their birth family, providing that it’s safe to do so. It is in everyone’s best interest — all of us — to work ceaselessly to make that happen for as many mothers as possible.
However, when a foster carer isn’t found for a mother and baby, they will go into a residential (institutional) home. An even worse outcome will be if she has to give the baby to foster care, reduced to seeing her child just a few times a week for short periods of time.
13. Are mother-baby placements usually successful?
Thankfully, the majority of these placements have positive outcomes. Mother and baby make it through the 12 weeks and leave together to start building their new life. In other words, assessments are favorable more often than not.
But keep in mind it’s not always the case. It can be very tough to live with a mother and her child and to realize that, in spite of doing her very best, it’s clear she doesn’t have the ability to care for her baby at this time.
14. What kinds of factors play into making a successful placement, from the carer’s perspective?
Experts agree that some of the factors that go into a successful placement are very clear. These factors include good planning and lots of support. Another factor is how clearly you understand your role. Remember, this is a supervisory role. You are there to observe the parenting skills of the mother, not to babysit a newborn baby. Yes, there can be a fine line in this role but you’ll be trained so that you’ll know when to take a step back and let the mother care for her baby.
Another factor that’s surfaced in the research is the attitude of the mother herself. As in most things in life, a positive outlook makes all the difference. Post-placement support is essential for helping the mother adjust to the foster caring environment and her host family.
Another factor is the foster carer’s prior knowledge of the mother. It can help to meet and get to know the mother before she moves in. It’s not always possible, unfortunately, but it does help a lot to smooth the transition both parties will have to make.
15. What specific kinds of skills do the mothers need to learn?
They will need to acquire the skills any parent needs to be self-sufficient and raise their baby properly. That covers a wide gamut of things to learn, but to give you an idea, here are some of the common areas where the mothers need to make improvements:
- The basics of child development
- Health and nutrition
- Budgeting and other personal finance basics
16. What if I need help?
Obviously, helping a young woman make the transition to motherhood is not a task to be taken lightly. You’ll be backed by a team of highly qualified professionals who are there to support you every step of the way.
The Last Word in Mother-Baby Placements
By now, it should be crystal clear how foster carers provide such necessary and valued services to society, especially in light of the work they do in offering their homes and their hearts up to children and young people in need. Some of the most vulnerable in the foster care system are unequivocally teen mothers or young teenage girls that are expecting babies.
These young people, in many ways not much more than children themselves, have likely been in the system for some time and have experiences that require a deft touch and a patient, compassionate soul.
Becoming a parent can be overwhelming in even the most ideal conditions. Access to medical care, adequate nutrition, financial stability, and love and attention benefits both mother and child immensely, but extremely young mothers all too often lack these necessities. This is where the foster care system can help by providing a safe and stable environment for a new baby and their mother at a time that they both need it very much.
Working with a foster agency in order to become someone who provides that safe and welcoming environment to a teen mum and her child is often the ultimate act of compassion. If you have a burning desire to make a difference in the lives of a young mother and their baby, striving to become a foster carer who specialises in mother-baby placements is one of the biggest commitments you can make. The challenges are likely to be great, but so are the rewards — among them being memories that will last a lifetime.
Do you feel that you have what it takes to foster a mother-baby placement?
The next step is to have a converation with us