What Is Fostering a Child Really Like?
The act of becoming a qualified foster carer is a long endeavour. It involves, quite literally, undergoing months of intensive preparation and being subjected to exacting scrutiny. Yet it’s often true that prospective foster carers, after having their first experience fostering a child, remark that the preparation process pales in comparison to what fostering a child is really like.
By the same token, however, foster parents also say that the act of fostering a child is as deeply rewarding as it may be challenging. Opening your home and, more often than not, your heart as well, to a child or young person in need of care doesn’t just have the potential to change the lives of the children in your care; oftentimes, it changes your own life as well — and for the better!
The Qualification Process
No discussion of what fostering a child is really like would be complete without at least a cursory look at the qualification process. All foster carers need to go through this process, which has been designed to ensure you will be able to provide for a foster child’s needs adequately, as a matter of law.
There are a number of straightforward requirements that you will need to meet to be considered for a foster carer role. While you’ll receive pay in compensation for fostering a child, you’ll need to be financially stable prior to taking on the responsibilities of a foster carer and provide proof of such. The absence of any financial bankruptcy proceedings on your behalf will have that sorted.
You will also need to offer proof of your physical ability to care for children, especially since many in the foster care system may have special needs of their own. The rigours of being a foster parent can take a toll on even the healthiest adult, so you will need to show you are healthy enough to handle being a foster carer. This is accomplished by going to your GP and getting an NHS health check.
Of course, there is one final thing that you will need to have before you’ll even be considered as a potential foster carer: a spare room in your home for every child you wish to foster. No foster agency is going to begin putting you through its vetting process without being provided the satisfaction that you have the physical space for a long-term, if temporary, addition to your family.
Vetting and Education for Prospective Foster Carers
After providing the preliminary qualifications of being physically healthy, financially healthy, and having enough space to accommodate a foster child, the lion’s share of the vetting and education process takes place. There are a number of steps you’ll have to go through, including:
- Providing references to your foster agency: If you have adult children that have since left the nest, former partners that helped you raise children in the past, work colleagues, relatives, or long-time friends, they may be asked to provide detailed references describing their views of your parenting abilities.
- Attending the Skills to Foster Training seminar: This two to three-day intensive workshop, usually held over a weekend and facilitated by a social worker from the foster agency, will provide you with some excellent preliminary skills that will aid you greatly if you’re selected to foster.
- Undergoing a BAAF Fostering Assessment: The British Association of Adoption and Fostering requires all applicants to be officially assessed by a social worker for suitability. This is a long process that can take anywhere from four months to six months. Upon completion, the social worker will present their findings to an independent Fostering Panel for a final review and approval recommendation.
- Receiving an Enhanced Disclosure from the DBS: The Disclosure and Barring Service requires anyone working with children to undergo their certification process. This isn’t just for potential foster carers: it’s also required of nursery, school, and creche workers as well.
- Enduring a review and final approval recommendation from a Fostering Panel: You’ll have a chance to personally present your case to a panel of five or more experts as to why you should be considered for a foster carer role. While it’s not quite an interrogation, you are likely to be asked to answer any questions the panelists may have regarding your application.
After progressing through all these steps, your case will be reviewed by the Agency Decision Maker. He or she reviews the panel’s findings and gives you the final answer of yea or nay. This, combined with the four to six-month wait time that accompanies your fostering assessment, tends to be nerve-wracking indeed. But once you’re selected, then this opens up a whole new world to you: the world of the foster carer.
Between Selection and Placement
Once selected, there will likely be quite some time before you’re matched with a foster child. This is an excellent opportunity to begin preparing yourself for the journey to a rewarding role as foster carer. You will be able to build on what you’ve already received during the Skills to Foster Training seminar with access to a one-on-one mentoring scheme, regular foster parent group meetups, and other support from your foster agency’s social worker.
You’ll also be able to rely on your foster agency for advanced help as well. You’ll be supported in case of an emergency or if you need respite. Additionally, your fostering social worker will provide individual development planning in order for you to pursue your personal goals. Having access to all of these support structures will prove to be invaluable once you receive your first placement.
Still, the nature of being a foster carer means doing your best to prepare for situations that are, by definition, almost impossible to prepare for. Many times you won’t know the precise circumstances of a foster child’s placement with you, nor will you know what they may have gone through or been subjected to immediately prior to him or her showing up on your doorstep. Yet despite not knowing the particulars, you can rest assured of one thing: it’s likely this child had been plunged into chaos. It’s now your job to provide him or her a safe harbour and to allow them to grow towards their full potential in a warm and welcoming environment.
Actively Fostering Children is a Vastly Divergent Experience
Upon being approved and accepted as a foster carer, you could receive your first placement any time. Some foster carers are called to serve in just a few weeks; others may be waiting a bit longer until they’re asked to step up and provide care to a foster child in need.
No matter how long you wait, the process is likely to be a difficult one, fraught with anticipation and perhaps even a little anxiety. This is completely natural and to be expected. The moment you do receive that call, however, is the last time you should panic, as you’re about to receive a child into your home and care.
There is a wide range of types of children that you can receive as a foster carer. They can be as young as a few days old or they can already be a teenager — or any age in-between. You may have them in your care for just a few days, such as in the case of providing respite for another foster parent, or you may have them for months or even years; it’s all relative on the particular circumstances surrounding the child and your own individual capabilities.
In other words, the fact that there is little that can be said about the definitive foster carer experience in itself speaks volumes. Each foster parent’s experience is likely to be vastly different than another in any number of ways, but whatever your personal experience as a foster carer ends up being, there’s a strong likelihood that you are going to need loads of patience and compassion — and the help of others that know what it’s like.
It Won’t Always Be Plain Sailing
Why the emphasis on patience and compassion? Simply because the life of a foster carer can be more than a bit rough on you. Many find themselves highly challenged by the situations they encounter while caring for a child that has been through traumatic events in their past, as this can manifest in behavioural issues that may be distressing to witness or help manage.
In situations where a foster child may have specific support needs that you are not equipped to meet, the child may be placed with a different carer. This is likely to be a highly emotional event not just for the child but for you as well. However, you must remember that if you have tried your level best and have still come up short, having a child placed with different foster carers with the specialized skills he or she needs is in the best interests of that child.
Likewise, it can be difficult to say goodbye to a very special little boy or girl that you have been fostering for an extended period, especially if he or she has become fully integrated into your existing family over that time. Again it is imperative to keep in mind that foster children that move on are always doing so in order to progress towards their goal of developing the skills and knowledge they need to become adults — and you can be proud of the role that you played in doing so, as your care and support has been an integral part of that process!
Your Need for Support Will Be Your One Unifying Factor
Whatever the circumstances surrounding your foster child and their need for care may be, there is one thing that will be universal: these children need safety and stability. Providing that to them can be an sometimes challenging, especially if the child or young person placed with you has been through traumatic experiences prior to being placed in your care. This makes the job of foster carer a complex one; there’s a reason you get two weeks of paid respite a year, after all!
Thankfully, your foster agency will have a whole raft of support services, starting with your social worker, who is your first point of contact. He or she can answer important questions you may have or, barring that, can put you into contact with someone who can. Your social worker can also help you identify skills you may need to develop in order to make you a better foster career and provide you with avenues for honing those skills.
While your social worker and the tools he or she will have at their disposal will undoubtedly be indispensable, the majority of your support is likely to come from other foster carers. One-on-one mentoring with experienced foster carers will provide you with a unique and knowledgeable point of view that can offer insights you may have missed, and group networking amongst other foster families provide opportunities for play dates and the ability to support one another during challenging times.
The Final Word on What Fostering a Child Is Really Like
Becoming a foster carer is a long process that involves passing a raft of criteria’s and assessments, learning and honing the types of skills needed to support a foster child’s development, and then waiting patiently until receiving a foster child placement. That is, as we’ve already discussed, the easy part; the challenge comes from that child is placed into your care. Thanks to your chosen foster agency, however, you’ll never have to cope with any aspect of being a foster carer without an entire network of help. Support is always just a phone call away.
Nearly every foster child will require extra care and attention in the form of compassion and patience, though it’s only natural that some will require less than others. These children all touch your lives in various ways, and a child leaving your care will always be an emotional moment in your life. The rewards of helping guide a young boy or girl in need often far outweigh any of the challenges you face in providing a home, however temporary, for that child, and the memories you build together as a foster carer will last you for the rest of your life.