Top Tips from an experienced Foster Carer

If you are considering becoming a Foster Carer there are many things you will need to consider. One of the predominant things that potential carers worry about is how they will cope with difficult behaviours, or how they will get to know the child who is placed in their care.

Children in care can have complex behaviours because they have a lot to contend with emotionally. They have left their families behind and are coming to a strange home to live with you. They are just as scared as you are and sometimes they are angry and confused too. As a new carer you will have a support network around you to help you to support the child through this difficult change. It is hard work but it can also be extremely rewarding.

One of our Foster Carers, Lesley who has now been a carer for Alpha Plus for over 8 years provides these top tips for new carers:

Have no expectations, some children will struggle to form strong bonds with you at first; they will likely be confused, scared and maybe even angry. Give them time and space!

Learn to read between the lines. They might struggle to communicate with you and reading between the lines is likely to help you in meeting their needs. Many children in care have needed to be very independent and struggle to know when it’s ok to ask for help.

Observe a lot. You will learn a lot.

Try not to keep level with the child’s emotions – stay calm

Speak with other Foster Carers. They are the best support network you can have, they will help you to realise that you are doing ok and that they are facing the same challenges. Sometimes you might feel like they are the only other people who understand.

Gather as much information about the Child(ren) as you possibly can before you meet them, such as likes and dislikes. This will help you to make them feel comfortable in your home as soon as possible and will help you start to build a bond.

Take each day as it comes, some will be better than others. Hold on to the small wins and the progress they show, this will keep you strong through the rocky patches.

Get to know your Supervising Social Worker really well and be honest with them about your feelings so that they can offer you the best possible support. They are there to help you provide the best possible care.

Attend training and get to know your peers. Training is invaluable and will help you to understand your child’s behaviour better while developing strategies to support them. You will also gain invaluable knowledge about the support available for the young person in your care.

Be prepared to be busy! Between school runs, evening and weekend activities and birth family contact you will be out of the house a lot.

Have your own voice at meetings – Be heard! It is your job to advocate on behalf of these children.

Don’t rush getting to know the child – move at their pace.

Be prepared for chaos, mess, and hopefully lots of fun!

The Fostering Assessment – What is a Form F?

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 the 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. You will also have the opportunity to speak to our Carer Engagement Officer, Nicky over the phone who can answer any questions you might have and help give you an understanding about fostering for Alpha Plus. Next you will be visited by one of our social work team who will 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 with Alpha Plus, 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 completed application form, we will allocate an Assessing Social Worker who will work with you and your family during the assessment process. They will visit you at your home on a number of occasions over a period of a few months and work through your application with you, gathering information about your family life, your background and history and about current and previous relationships.

You will probably have been told during your enquiry and course that the assessment can appear intrusive and there is no question or apology that you and the social worker will be become intimately acquainted! The fostering assessment has no set time and you can be approved in a matter of months, we aim to complete it in less than 4 months but it can take over a year if necessary, depending on your circumstances.

So what does the assessment consist of?  Well mostly it’s you doing a lot of talking about yourself!

In no particular order, be prepared to discuss your family and origins, your relationship with your parents and siblings, religion, your childhood as well as any previous relationships and ex partners.  Discussing your ex partners is one that a lot of people can find difficult and social workers are often asked ‘why do you need to know that’?  If you’ve been previously married or have children with an ex partner, the social worker is required to contact them which again some applicants can find invasive.  We do take a realistic approach to these references and understand that relationship breakdowns can be difficult and this will all be taken into account.

It is not uncommon for applicants to express anxieties about issues from their past coming up during the Form F, that they may feel they no longer want to talk about or that it could reflect badly on them and hinder their chances of success. We often find that difficult life experiences can be a positive during the assessment process. Where applicants are able to demonstrate that they have overcome stressful life experiences and that they are able to reflect and learn from these events, this will reflect positively on an applicant’s resilience and capacity to manage stress effectively. Furthermore, an applicant who has had to face their own personal challenges in life is more likely to be able to draw on their experiences and demonstrate empathy towards a child in their care.

Why is the assessment so detailed?

There are legitimate reasons behind these personal questions and the bottom line is that the assessing social worker is required to check every link possible in order to protect any children going into your care. These requirements are outlined in the 2013 Government document:  Fostering services: assessment and approval of foster carers The reality is that you want to help children who have probably lived in very difficult and vulnerable circumstances and it is now our job to do everything in our power to protect them.

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. This process will help your assessor put together what is known as a Form F in relation to your application. This form is a mandatory requirement for all fostering applications regardless of who you want to foster with. The report 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. Our team will do everything they can to make the process run as smoothly as possible  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 here. We are always happy to answer questions to put any concerns you may have at ease.

 

Becoming a Foster Carer – What you need to know.

If you’re considering becoming a foster carer this year, the process of applying is far more straightforward and inclusive than you might think. The most important, and time consuming, stage of the process is deciding if fostering is right for you. It is a big decision!

There are a few common myths which dissuade many from even taking the first step to find out more. Misconceptions such as thinking you can’t foster if you’re single, gay or if you don’t own your own home. Don’t rule yourself out; if you would like to foster but maybe have a concern that you will not be able to call us, our Carer Engagement Officer, Nicky is happy to have an informal chat with you and discuss any concerns or queries you have. There is no such thing as a bad question! If you’re between 21 and 70 and have a spare room then you can usually be considered for fostering.

If you fall in to that category then you need to decide if you have the requisite skills and personality to be a successful foster carer. Traits like patience, the ability to listen and a great sense of humour are essential as are communication skills, consistency and energy. Fostered children and young people are looking for someone who can offer them love, safety, security and support. You do not need to be a super hero just a normal person who is willing to give love to a child when they need it most.

 

What type of fostering is right for you?

There are many different types of fostering that people choose; all come with challenges and rewards; the more people learn about fostering the more they realise which type of fostering they and their family would be most suited to.

It might be emergency and short term placements which could be taken at short notice, while longer-term plans are being considered. Or you could be needed to offer a break to the family of a child with disabilities, or part-time care to children with complex needs so they and their family can have a break.

You might be able to offer short term care, which lasts up to two years while the family courts make decisions about what the best long term plan is for the child. The hope is that they will be able return home to their birth families but sometimes this is not possible and they will move into long-term fostering placements which allow children to stay in a family where they can feel secure, often while maintaining contact with their birth family. There is a particular need for these types of foster care for teenagers and sibling groups. The young people often stay with their foster family into adulthood and beyond and become a permanent member of the family.

It is estimated that this year over 1050 more foster carers need to be recruited in the North West. There is a shortage of family homes for these children and you could make a huge difference.

 

What is the application process?

If you decide you’d like to be a foster carer there is a thorough process to complete before being approved.

This process begins by speaking with Nicky our Carer Engagement officer who can answer any initial questions you may have and she will want to learn more about your motivation to foster. We will organise for a member of our team to visit you at home so you can get to know more about Alpha Plus and so they can see the bedroom you are planning to use and get to know you better. This is a two way process, when you decide to foster with Alpha Plus we want to you feel confident that you are applying to the best possible agency for you. So ask lots of questions!

After these initial conversations, you will be invited to make an application. This is followed by a three day pre-approval training course called ‘Skills to Foster’; statutory checks such as a medical with your own GP and a DBS check will be undertaken. You will then be visited on a few occasions by a social worker who will assess your suitability to be a Foster Carer and compile a report. This report, called a Form F, will then be submitted to a fostering panel which will make a recommendation as to your suitability to become a Foster Carer. The agency decision maker should then be able to approve you as a Foster Carer.

If successful, you will then be waiting to have your first child or young person placed with you – and that’s when the journey and the fun really begins!

 

Call Nicky today on Freephone 08082849211 or register your interest here to receive an information pack and a call back.

Helping a Young Mother with Motherhood

My Experience of a Mother & Baby Foster Placement

Parent and child placements enable young, vulnerable parents (usually a mother and baby) to stay together at a time when they need extra support. Parent and child foster carers can provide extra parental support for the young parent, whilst sharing and teaching them a range of skills associated with parenting.

Our carer, Alison*, shares her experience of being a mother and baby foster carer:

Today, I said goodbye to the young person that I’ve been caring for over the last three months, who stood and cried as I drove away (and she never cries!). Although full of challenges, it was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding placements I’ve ever experienced.

I wasn’t asked to do an assessment which would be more usual of such a placement, but rather, to offer support and guidance to S*, aged 17 and her daughter B*, just eight months old.

On their last day with us, we sat down to enjoy pancakes and presented each other with gifts whilst saying our goodbyes. S gave me a card, thanking me for caring for both her and her daughter, for showing her that she can be a good mum to her baby, and for giving her experiences that she ‘would never have had’ if it wasn’t for us.

S told me that she wouldn’t have ever taken her baby swimming if it wasn’t for my encouragement. We taught her to cook, budget her money and helped her to plan ready for her move. Whilst with us, we were able to take her on two holidays, one of which was a camping trip. She tried the high ropes for the first time in her life, went roller skating, rock climbing and we climbed a small mountain together, with S wearing a baby rucksack. Once we reached the top, we enjoyed the amazing views of the Lake District. During her time with us, S completed a two day first aid course. This was the first time she had received any education since having her baby.

Although only a short period of time, we packed as much into those three months as we possibly could, and I know that S will look at life differently because of it.

Today is a reminder of all of the reasons why I foster.
What a purpose to have in life, to be given the opportunity to show a young person another way and to help them live their lives to the full.

Good Luck, S.
X

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Parent and Child placements are becoming more popular and we therefore need to recruit new foster carers who are able to offer their support and experience to help and new Mum or Dad during their first weeks of parenthood. If you think you would be able to offer this essential support call Nicky today on 0808 284 9211 for an informal chat about what is involved.

What is your motivation?

Are you thinking about becoming a foster carer? What is your motivation?

There are many reasons people decide they want to get involved in fostering, some of their own life experiences that drive them to this ambition, others have a lifelong dream to help children. Whatever your motivation all types of people make great foster carers.

Janet, an Alpha Plus foster carer, has been fostering since 2002 and cared for twenty-three children. She shares what motivated her to become a foster carer at the young age of 32 years old.

Janet’s mum had always fostered and she supported her in this, becoming a big sister figure to the teenagers her mum was caring for. Her mum was caring for three teenage girls and Janet spent considerable time with them, not realising the impact she was having on their lives as they became a big part of the family. She was the supportive figure these girls had longed for, proving a positive role model for them by listening to them and talking through any problems they might have. They would stay with her for weekends, indulge in pizza and film nights or go shopping and enjoy treats together. Janet had been her mum’s supporting carer for many years, without ever considering it as work, this was her family.

Later down the line, at 32 years old, Janet was married and working in marketing. She knew that she would eventually want to start a family and would want more flexibility at work to fit around this. Janet had considered her options when her husband, who was volunteering at a local youth club, was approached by someone who fostered with Alpha Plus. He was informed about what the role of a foster carer entailed, and that they should enquire. After much discussion, they decided they should find out more. Janet discovered that her family friend fostered with Alpha Plus, through a discussion with her mum. It felt like it was meant to be.

Quickly booking herself on to the next available information session, Janet came to meet Alpha Plus and found out all about the support we provide. Janet remembers that initial meeting, recalling that she felt unsure and was not convinced that fostering was the right role for her. She attended a second information session and having taken plenty of time to consider her abilities and willingness to perform the role, Janet decided to make an application. From her experience, she already knew that she wanted to care for teenagers and has been doing so ever since.

Since 2002, Janet and Graham have cared for 23 children. Some of these children have returned home to be looked after by family members, others have gone to live independently and some have moved to other carers.