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.