Empty Nest Fostering

It’s that dreaded time for teenagers and parents alike – A Level results are out. Whether youngsters do as well as expected, or have to go through clearing, university life is just around the corner for around one third of the UK’s 18 year olds – and an ‘empty nest’ for worried parents.
For some parents, an empty nest is a welcome relief from the hectic schedule of looking after teenagers. No more loud music, no people creeping in the front door hours past bedtime, and no more sulky teenagers. However, for some, the quiet life just doesn’t cut it. That need to love, care, nurture and mentor someone just isn’t being met – could fostering with Alpha Plus Foster Care provide the solution?
Parents can go through a lot raising their children including – but not limited to – sleepless nights, stress, worry, tears of happiness and frustration, and at Alpha Plus Foster Care we think this gives them a fantastic set of skills which can be utilised through fostering. Providing a safe and secure home for a child or young person is only part of becoming a foster carer, having the patience, commitment, perseverance and determination to succeed are just as important. Fostering can provide a refreshingly different challenge from traditional parenthood – one that many find extremely rewarding.

For many, the ‘empty nest’ stage of their life is the perfect time to look into fostering. The impact of birth children is lessened as they begin their exciting new life at university; there are less financial pressures with one less mouth to feed, along with extra space in the home. When children return from university in holidays or visit as adults they provide an excellent role model for young people in your care and a welcome distraction.
The journey to becoming a foster carer usually takes around 4-6 months to complete. During this time a social worker will complete an assessment on you and your family – which includes contacting birth children, completing a series of background checks and references, and also involves attending a 3-day training course arranged locally. Once approved as foster carers, you will be supported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by our qualified Social Workers, attend regular training courses, and receive a generous weekly allowance to assist with household living costs. You will also be invited to various children’s events, charity events and support groups so that you always feel part of the Alpha Plus family.

What happens during a fostering assessment?

Whether you’re at the very start of your fostering journey and doing research before you make an initial enquiry, or whether you’re preparing to have an assessment soon, we understand that you may feel apprehensive about this step.

As you’d expect, the fostering assessment process involves an in-depth analysis, but it shouldn’t be intimidating or frightening. So, to help you feel more at ease when your own assessment approaches, today we’re going to outline how a foster care assessment works in a little more detail for you.
 
When will your Alpha Plus foster care assessment happen?

The foster care assessment is usually the third stage in an individual or couple’s foster care application journey. Following an initial enquiry, which may happen over the telephone or in person, you will receive a fostering pack full of information to help you decide if fostering could be a good fit for you. Next you will be visited by one of our team who till talk to you in more detail about fostering and how it might impact on your lifestyle, as well as answering any questions you may have about the process. If you decide to proceed, the next step is to complete a fostering application form. This will be followed by your fostering assessment.
 
What is the fostering assessment process?

Once we receive your form, we will allocate an assessor who will work with you and your family during the assessment process. They will visit you at your home on a number of occasions and work through your application with you, gathering information about your family life, your background and history and about current and previous relationships.

We will identify any previous experience you have of looking after children or providing care. Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks will be carried out to confirm whether you have any previous cautions or convictions. The questions you are asked will be probing, but are designed to find out how fostering might impact on you and your family, so it’s important to answer fully and honestly. Your assessor will always try and make you feel as relaxed as possible. You will also be asked to provide the names of referees as part of this process, and these people will be contacted in relation to your application.

This process will help your assessor put together what is known as a Form F in relation to your application. This will pull the collected information together and you will have the opportunity to review your Form F before it is passed to the Fostering Panel. You will meet with the Panel to discuss your application and find out whether they will be recommending that your application be progressed. This gives you the opportunity to discuss with them your experiences, circumstances and other details outlined in the form.
 
Want to learn more about the assessment?

Hopefully this post has helped you feel a little more relaxed about the fostering process as a whole and about any approaching assessment meetings you may have.  If you’re unsure whether you could be suitable for fostering or you’ve been put off by what seemed like a scary process in the past, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are always happy to answer questions to put any concerns you may have at ease.

Alpha Plus Fostering: Can I foster?

Here at Alpha Plus we know that successful foster families come in all shapes and sizes, so today on the blog we’re debunking a few myths to explain who can foster and help you to decide if becoming a foster parent is something that might be a good option for you.
 
First, let’s talk about the three most important things you need to be able to commit to before becoming a foster parent. Along with a bedroom that could be used exclusively for a foster child, you’ll also need the patience and understanding required to help nurture a child placed in your care. As you’d expect, being able to commit time to care for a child properly is also incredibly important and at least one carer needs to be on hand all of the time. However, if you are part of a couple where one of you works full-time or you are a single parent, fostering could be an option for you.

Fostering as a single parent
 
We have lots of foster parents working with us who are single parents. You don’t need to be part of a couple to foster; what matters is that you’re able to dedicate enough time and energy to looking after the child or children in your care. As a single foster carer this may mean that you need to be at home full-time or have flexible employment that can fit around the needs of a child.
 
LGBT fostering
 
It doesn’t matter whether foster carers are single or part of a couple, gender or sexual orientation is not a factor for consideration either. We’ll always consider whether candidates are capable of providing a stable and caring home for a foster child, so if you think you fit the bill, do get in touch.
 
Fostering for retired/older people
 
Fostering can be a very rewarding experience for older and retired people. Many people find when their biological families move out or they no longer work full-time that they have lots of energy they’d like to share with others. If this sounds like you, you could be a great candidate for fostering! There is no upper age limit for becoming a foster parent; so as long as you’re fit and healthy your application will be considered like any other.

Fostering for all
 
We welcome fostering applications from individuals and couples from all ethnic groups and work with social workers to place children of diverse ethnic groups. When placing a foster child, workers will always prioritise the needs of a child, which means you’ll need to support a sense of positive ethnic identity or religion but you won’t necessarily need to be of the same ethnicity or religion to be matched with a child. If you have any questions, please get in touch for a chat – no question is too silly.
 
Can I foster if I don’t have experience of childcare?

As part of your fostering application, you’ll be assessed to see where you may need extra support as you prepare to become a foster parent. While we do welcome applications from individuals and couples who have experience of caring for children – either within their career or perhaps looking after other family members – if you’re hoping to look after children for the first time we can support your fostering journey too.
 
Hopefully this post has answered some of your fostering questions but if you have any outstanding queries about who can foster, or anything else, please get in touch with our team and we’ll be happy to talk through them with you.

How to set up a bedroom for an older foster child

The arrival of a foster child is an exciting time for any household, and key to creating a smooth transition period is preparation.

One of the most important steps in the preparation process is setting up your future foster child’s bedroom; somewhere they can feel comfortable and safe.Any bedroom for a foster child should be welcoming and age appropriate; a principal which applies to both the younger and the older child, but none more so than a teenager. After all, having young children’s toys in a room for a teenager is hardly likely to create a great first impression.Consider these tips when setting up a bedroom for an older foster child, and eliminate some unnecessary stress.

Let them choose

When choosing items to place in the older child’s room careful consideration needs to be made to ensure the room does not have a too grown up or kiddie-like feel. The best way to achieve this is to allow the child to choose items for the room themselves. This gives a great sense of independence but also allows them to create their own sense of identity. Whilst some items can be chosen in advance, the finishing touches, those that really make the room, can be chosen by the individual. This room needs to be their safe haven and have their own personality stamped onto it.

Don’t over personalise at first

Trying not to over personalise or stereotype a room is another way to make it more welcoming. Sticking to warm welcoming neutral colours such as green and avoiding the stereotypical blue for a boy and pink for a girl, gives greater scope for individual touches. For example, rather than buying bedding, curtains etc. for a particular band or character, buy neutral colours at first and then find out what the child is interested in. It can also be a great bonding session to learn more about each other.

Create a welcoming feel

The room needs to be kept simple, but at the same time welcoming. By having too many items or toys, the whole process can become over whelming. An easy way to make a room welcoming is to have pillows, cushions and bean bags.

These items are relatively inexpensive and can help finish a room. Not only this, they can become a good thing to let out some steam or frustration when times feel hard. Bean bags, cushions and pillows are suitable for any age and can be updated simply by changing the cover.

Encourage creativity

Placing a blank canvas in the room or chalk board paint can provide a creative outlet. The child can be imaginative by drawing their own pictures, can write down their feelings and emotions or even just have a space to release random thoughts. A chalk board or white board are good choices as they can simply be erased and updated.If you are comfortable with having food in a bedroom, have a welcome snack or goodies set out on a dresser or by the side of the bed. It might take a while for confidence to grow to ask for something to eat on that first day, so this acts as a good ice breaker and a way to say “welcome”.

Be understanding

Finally, whatever you do decide to put in the room, remember accidents happen and things could get broken. Whilst you might not want to fill the room with family heirlooms you also don’t want to make it feel like it is full of cheap and impersonal items. Second hand items and budget items of furniture are a great way to save money but it is worth checking that there are no broken or damaged pieces.

The best way to set up a room is to think how you would feel walking into this room for the first time, and putting yourself in your foster child’s shoes. If you are still in need of inspiration, Pinterest is a great way to provide inspiration for décor.

Tips for Successful Summer Days Out

Summer can be a great time to see new things and introduce your foster child to new activities. With so many school-free days to fill, it pays to have a few potential activities and day trips planned.

Scheduling a few trips in advance will not only give all of the family something to look forward to, but it can also help ensure that everyone gets to have some input, allow you to ensure things run smoothly, and to stretch out your budget too.

Here are our top tips for successful days out with your foster children this summer…

Things to do, places to see

Planning a few free, almost-free or added value trips will help you to pack more in – remember you don’t necessarily need to go far for things to feel like an adventure. If you have children of different ages to entertain, it can be difficult to cater to their different needs and interests. This can be tackled in two ways; firstly by planning a couple of different days out where the main event on each outing appeals more to a certain age group, so every child has ‘their’ day. Secondly, you can try and factor something for everyone into each day.

Many museums and galleries offer free entry and during summer months will run extra entertainment for children. Combine a trip to an exhibition with a picnic in a park and you have a low-cost day that is both indoors and out, and allows children to expend a little energy too!

It’s also worth checking out the English Heritage website – up to six children can enjoy free entry to their 400 sites when accompanied by one adult member, and annual membership starts at just £41 per year. Trips to many of these sites can be combined with a visit to the seaside too, which ticks the boxes for every age group.

As we’re not always guaranteed great weather here in the UK, it is worth noting that many cinemas and theatres offer reduced rates during the daytime. For further inspiration, try looking at your local free newspaper or area website to see what events are running locally. Often organisers can’t afford to advertise things very widely so local press is a good source of information for happenings that could otherwise go under the radar.

Tips for planning your day trips:

You don’t need to stick rigidly to a schedule for things to go smoothly but a little time management goes a long way. Make sure you’ve double-checked opening times, factored in potential transport delays and accounted for (several) toilet breaks too; it’s always a disappointment to arrive at an attraction only to find it’s closed or you don’t have much time to explore. Save time on the day by prepping snacks, drinks and picnics the night before.

It’s natural to be anxious about safety and security on days out, for peace of mind, be prepared by talking through potential dangers with children. Chat about not talking to strangers or wandering off, arrange a meeting point in case you are separated for any reason, and ensure kids are armed with your mobile phone number in their pocket in case of emergencies. Pack a mini first aid kid in case of scrapes and falls. And as we’re in Britain, it’s best to plan for sun and rain when it comes to getting dressed – you may even want to pack an extra set of clothes.

Finally, when you’re out on the day remember to enjoy yourselves! Make travelling part of the fun, and bring books, magazines and travel games (plus snacks) to make long journeys pass quicker.

You may find things don’t quite go in the order you expect as children can become distracted or you might find something else of interest to do along the way, but just go with the flow. And when the time to leave is getting close, start a countdown so that everyone can adjust to the idea of the day ending and perhaps focus on something nice you’ll do together when you get back home.

Do you have any top tips for planning the ultimate day out or any activities you’d recommend? We’d love to hear about them.

Are you a foster carer and thinking about transferring?

Here at Alpha Plus we understand that sometimes foster carers may want to consider transferring to a different provider for a multitude of reasons. We recognise that this is a big decision to make and something that you will need to consider carefully. You may wish to move because you feel you are not getting the support or training you require. You may also wish to consider transferring because you have not had a placement for a significant period of time.

We are particularly keen to hear from experienced carers who may wish to consider transferring to Alpha Plus and are very happy to have an informal chat with you so that you are able to explore your options. Judged by Ofsted to be outstanding for three inspections and as a Tier 1 provider we are very proud of the excellent child centred service we provide to children, carers and the Local Authorities. We are well respected and have an excellent reputation throughout the North West and are always keen to recruit carers who have experience in working with large sibling groups, children with complex emotional or health needs, parent and child placements and teens to meet the continual requests for placements that we receive from Local Authorities.

If you have a child in placement and are considering a transfer our main consideration will be if this is something in the child’s interest. Careful thought is always given to how a transfer will impact upon the child you have in placement.

There is a protocol for the movement of carers between agencies and Alpha Plus abide by the principles of the protocol. Please see this link to view the protocol.

If you are in the early stages of considering a move to another provider or have made up your mind call us on 0161 684 2323 to find out what Alpha Plus can offer you as a professional carer.

The Benefits of the Fostering Mentor

Fostering is, without question, one of the most challenging, rewarding and transforming things a person, couple or family can do.

At Alpha Plus Fostering, we understand inviting a vulnerable and often neglected child or teenager into your home, learning to see the person behind the behaviour and making a real difference to their life isn’t something anyone enters into lightly.

Some of the most successful foster caring matches that have happened in recent years have been the product of intense support for the foster carers.

Most agencies involved in fostering agree that the higher the degree of support a carer can receive, the better the outcome will be for both carer and foster child.

If you are considering fostering, it is important to use an agency or service that will give you access to a fostering mentor.

Most mentors are foster carers or former carers themselves and they will understand exactly the challenges you face because they will have experienced them directly themselves.

Accessing support from a fostering mentor means having a person who will listen to you in a non judgemental way and allow you to discuss any difficulties you might have.

Often, having someone to listen is enough, but mentors can give practical advice based on many years of experience about what approaches work and what doesn’t.

The benefit of a mentor is often that they can see a situation with a fresh pair of eyes and put themselves in your shoes or the person you are caring for.

Often, if you are dealing with difficult or challenging behaviour, it is hard to take a step back and assess what is really going on. This is where a mentor is invaluable.

Finance and fostering

For most carers, the desire to contribute to the life of a young person who need support, nurturing and understanding is their prime motivation.

Placing a child’s needs first and making the home a safe, caring space where they can be themselves is the most rewarding experience that foster caring can offer.

However, Alpha Plus Fostering also makes sure its carers are well paid for the work they do; for some families fostering makes both emotional and financial sense.

Carers receive a minimum starting allowance per week of £366 for each child or young person they foster, which covers food, clothing, travel and leisure activities.

At Alpha we provide guidance on what you will need to spend your allowance on to give your foster placement the best chance of a balanced life.

Because we not only value the foster child in your care, but we also value your time, expertise, patience and compassion, the allowance can help you with your own household finances.

The role of a foster carer doesn’t come with a salary, but it is still an important, full time job and the funding reflects the time and commitment carers give. In addition to the allowance, there are tax exemptions available for carers. The government has set a threshold for foster carers on lower incomes and many pay no income tax on their allowance.

Some carers with multiple placements might find their income is above the tax exemption, but this is normally the exception to the rule.

The government views foster carers as self-employed; this means that if you are liable for tax, you will have to complete a self-assessment form. It does not necessarily disqualify you from tax credits and other forms of benefits as these will be calculated alongside your annual income.

At Alpha Plus Fostering, we truly believe that fostering can work for both you and your foster placement and whilst it is personally rewarding in countless ways, it also pays financially too.

Types of fostering – Part One

At Alpha Plus Fostering we know that exploring fostering for the first time can be complex, most people have little prior knowledge of the fostering process.

Understanding the different types of foster care is important for prospective carers, so they can make informed decisions about the type of care they can offer so the team at Alpha Plus have put together a series of blogs to help you

Some carers specialise in having short term foster placements. The length of these placements can last from a couple of days to a maximum of two years and are for children and young people who might return to their birth families.

Long term placements are for children and young people who are very unlikely to return to their birth families.

Younger children in these placements are often placed for adoption but older children are better suited to long term foster care until they reach adulthood.

Long term foster care involves a considerable commitment to the child, who will become part of your family.

A much shorter arrangement than either of these options is bridging care. A bridging carer will look after a child while long term foster parents or adoptive parents are sought.

Two other types of fostering, emergency placement fostering and respite fostering are both short term and short notice.

As an emergency carer, a young person in crisis, in need of a safe place away from the family home might be placed with you.

Respite fostering happens when a birth family is experiencing difficulties and a child is placed temporarily with carers to give all family members a break from the strains they are experiencing.

At the Alpha Plus Fostering we know that there are as many different types of carer as there are children in need of care, so we encourage you to explore the options that are available.

The care you offer needs to match the life you lead, foster care can be flexible for both you and the child you care for.

Types of fostering – Part Two

Making a long term commitment to a vulnerable young person in need of a safe, secure and nurturing home can be one of the most rewarding choices a prospect foster carer can make.

At Alpha Plus Fostering we’ve noticed a popular perception of foster caring in the media and on television is that it involves a long term placement of many years.

There are many different types of foster placement that can be arranged and depending on the needs, motivations and future plans of the foster carer, long term caring might be an option.

Fostering a child to adulthood is a significant undertaking for anyone and it needs to be a decision that works for the whole family. It also needs to be a choice that you as a foster carer can sustain in the long term as the children who you foster need to know you will be with them no matter what.

Many children who require foster care have had the experience of being abandoned by parents or carers at an early age. As a result many fear that this might happen again and need carers who are committed for the long term.

Without support, this can be an overwhelming proposition for any foster carer, but at Alpha Plus, we take your needs as seriously as those of the foster placement.

At Alpha Plus we provide initial and ongoing training, a mentoring programme and regular contact with our trained workers. There is also a generous weekly allowance for each foster placement you accept.

If you think you have the time, energy and patience to offer a young person in need of stability and security a home, Alliance Fostering would like to hear from you.