Helping Foster Children Through the Holiday Season

Christmas can and should be one of the most wonderful times of the year for children, excited about the arrival of Father Christmas and the magic the festive period brings. But, for many looked after children and young people, Christmas can be a stressful and difficult time of year.

In the build up to Christmas, all around us the vision of the perfect family enjoying the festivities is portrayed – not only through the media, but through conversations with friends about their plans for the holiday, with whom they’ll be going to visit and what activities they have planned with their families. For a looked after child who has been separated from their birth parents this can evoke powerful emotions, both positive and negative, and stir up memories and feelings from their past.

With this in mind, we’ve come up with simple things you can do this Christmas time to help looked after children cope and make this festive season a happy one…

  1. Talk about Christmas
  2. A child in care may not have a good understanding of the Christmas holiday, what it means and what traditions it brings in your home. Take time to read a few books in the run up to Christmas and be ready to hear about their past Christmases. Encourage them to share good memories, then work out ways that traditions can be integrated. Let them know what to expect, even if it’s as simple as decorations, Christmas music, stockings and lots of family meals!

  3. Maintain routine where possible
  4. Christmas can be a hectic time of year, with gifts to be bought being left until the eleventh hour and plans being changed last minute! It’s important to remember the importance of planning and how children thrive on routine. If for any reason routines can’t be maintained, talk the potential changes through with your foster child, discuss any worries they may have and outline the steps you can both take to help them cope.

  5. Involve everyone
  6. Make your home inviting and cosy together! The key is to ensure that the children or young people see the change in setting as positive and a fun activity to do together.

  7. Write a letter to Santa
  8. For younger children, if this is their first Christmas with you, it’s important that Father Christmas knows where to find you!

  9. Anticipate Christmas to be an emotional time
  10. Expect Christmas to be an emotional time for the children you look after, especially for those who may be unable to see their family. All families have their good moments, even if they are few in number and children may want to talk about these and share memories with you. Take time to listen and enjoy time to bond.

  11. Prepare for guests
  12. Introducing children or young people to extended family or family gatherings can be a daunting experience for them. Planning around family gatherings is important – let them know who’s coming and when. Sometimes, it helps to talk about the visitors in advance, so that your foster child feels a familiarity and level of comfort before they have arrived. If the children or young people want to social that’s great, but remember to give them time and space to get comfortable at their own pace if they would rather.

  13. Be alcohol aware
  14. Be wary that children in care may have witnessed the misuse of alcohol and drugs at home, and seeing people drinking at home could cause anxieties to surface, so drink responsibly.

Tips for a Successful Winter’s Day Out

Winter is a wonderful time of year, but often the chill of the outdoors is motivation enough to close the curtains and stay well within the warmth of your home. Whilst this is cosy, it often doesn’t take long until the kids are bursting with energy and looking for things to do. Here are some tips and ideas for a successful Winter’s day out:

Staying warm:

  1. Make sure everyone is all wrapped up with scarves, hats and gloves. Keeping heads and hands warm is crucial and will ensure nobody catches a cold!
  2. Waterproof clothing – expect the expected! Always take big coats or waterproof anoraks with hoods to hand. An umbrella is always a good idea if you’re planning to be outside, and of course wellies! After all, squelching about in the mud and jumping in puddles is what it’s all about.</>
  3. Thick fluffy socks are a must.</>
  4. Don’t forget lip salve and hand cream – cold, windy weather can dry out lips and hands.</>
  5. Portable hand warmers – an inexpensive treat.</>

Things to do:

  1. Take a walk around the park. Though it can be a bit nippy, admiring the changing season, kicking up piles of leaves and stopping for a quick coffee or hot chocolate can make for a lovely time with the children.</>
  2. Trip to the local cinema. You can find great deals online to keep the kids and your wallet happy!</>
  3. Ice skating – search online for a Winter Wonderland near you.</>
  4. Visit somewhere you haven’t been before, or haven’t visited in ages. Beaches can be perfect this time of year, especially with dogs.</>
  5. Explore the Christmas markets! Christmas comes around quickly – now’s the time to start your Christmas Shopping and pick up little gifts for the family.</>

Short Term and Long Term Fostering

Fostering is about providing a child or young person with a safe, comfortable place that they can call home for a while. There are many types of fostering placements, but the main two are short or long term.

What is short term fostering?

Short-term fostering is more common with young children, and can be anything from a one night emergency stay up to up to two years. These placements often occur whilst plans for a child or young person’s future are being made, for example in between care proceedings or court hearings.

What is long term fostering?

Long-term fostering placements provide children with more permanency if they are unlikely to be returning to their family. Children and young people in long term placements are typically cared for up until they reach adulthood and are able to care for themselves.

Which type of fostering is right for me?

Whether short term or long term placements are suitable for you depends on your own family and lifestyle, and the needs of the looked after child. The type of fostering you provide will be agreed as part of your foster carer assessment and may change as you move through your fostering career.

There is a national shortage of foster carers who are looking for long-term placements, with most placements being short-term.

If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a carer or would like to find out more about the other types of fostering, get in touch today – click here.

3 Common Fostering Challenges and How To Overcome Them

  1. Managing challenging behaviour

Foster children are complex individuals with complex needs and backgrounds. Sometimes, to come to terms with what they’ve been through, children manifest these needs in the form of seemingly antisocial or self-destructive behaviours. Such as violence and tantrums, self-harm and running away from home.

To help them deal with what they’re going through, and to overcome or manage these behaviours, it’s important to bear in mind the possible reasons behind them: physical or mental health issues, abusive relationships during early development, or trouble adjusting to a new way of life.

How should you react to these behaviours? Although every child and their behaviours are unique and should be treated as such, you always need patience and preparation. During your training with us you’ll be given critical thinking and behaviour management tips to help you approach the task in general. And you’ll always have a Supporting Social Worker and peer groups to learn from when dealing with specific behaviours. It could take years to help them, but you’re never on your own.

 

  1. Interacting with biological families

One of the primary aims of a foster placement is often to reunite parent and child when it’s safe and beneficial to do so. This means continued contact is vital, although it’s not always easy. Sometimes biological families are well aware that they need help from a foster carer while they work through their issues, but other times they can be more resistant.

Anger and resentment might be aimed at you, with parents refusing to see you as someone who’s trying to help. But stick at it and give them a chance. Maintaining these relationships can have long-term benefits for the child’s wellbeing, so it’s important to see past previous parental challenges and focus on the future.

How can you manage these relationships? Most importantly, make sure you always liaise with your Supervising Social Worker before making contact. They’ll be able to give you background information and help make sure you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Keep to any appointments you make, remain positive and be honest. Over time you may break through and begin to work together as a team.

 

  1. Experiencing exhaustion in your own life

Burnout can be a real problem for foster carers, especially when caring for multiple children. You put so much effort into helping others that you could become overwhelmed when also balancing your social life, relationships and responsibilities.

If you begin to feel run down, unmotivated or depressed, it’s time to call your Supervising Social Worker to find a solution together and make some changes as soon as possible. After all, if you’re too exhausted to care for yourself, you’ll have a difficult time giving a foster child the love and support they need.

How can you keep on top of exhaustion? If possible, make time for yourself each week when a partner, backup carer or someone else in your support network can take on your responsibilities. (Your Supervising Social Worker can help you set this up – you never need to face things alone.) In addition, keep yourself fit and healthy, eat well and get plenty of rest. Combined, these simple activities are incredibly good for you. And what’s good for you is usually good for your fostering household too.

Working & Driving: Can I Still Foster

“Can I still work if I am the primary carer?”

The answer to this is yes. However, we assess individuals on how flexible their working hours are.

Being a foster carer comes with a number of responsibilities – such as attending meetings with local authority services, training sessions, contact meetings as well as facilitating the school run. Having flexible work hours is a necessity when becoming a foster carer in order to be able to meet the demands of fostering.

We are aware that, unfortunately, very few jobs offer this kind of flexibility. However, we do consider people who have flexible roles such as supply teacher or bank staff as well as self-employed people who are able to prioritise fostering and attend all meetings and training.

If you are a couple, it is worth considering whether you would be able to balance the committment to fostering and your employment responsibilities between you.

“Do I have to be able to drive to foster?”

Being able to drive can make a foster carer’s life much easier in terms of being able to meet the demands of fostering, and we do have a preference since it eliminates potential problems of attending meetings and training sessions, for example.

However, we do not immediately rule out a potential carer simply because they cannot drive, and we take into account a number of different factors when assessing whether an individual is capable of fulfilling the fostering task without a driving license.

One of the main factors we look into is the quality of the public transport network in the carer’s surrounding location, and how accessible this is for them. We also take into consideration whether there is a secondary foster carer and if this person is able to drive the primary carer to all training and meeting sessions.

If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer and would like to discuss your working and/or driving circumstances, click here.

Do I Need a Spare Room?

One of the most common questions asked when people are considering becoming foster carers is, ‘Do I need a spare room?’. The answer to that is, ‘Yes’!

There are clear National Minimum Standards* of children having their own room.

Most children in need of a foster home are at an age where they need their own space, to play or be creative without distraction. Their own room can provide a sense of security and allows children to have a dedicated place to be calm, where they can get rid of their frustrations and just be themselves. This is especially important for vulnerable children who may have experienced trauma and are having to adapt to life in a new home, with different people and routines.

Their own room can also be instrumental in helping foster children adjust to new routines, such as a consistent bedtime routine. Children that come into foster care have often never experienced clear boundaries or set routines, and it can take time to help them establish these.

The benefits of a spare room don’t stop at the foster child, there are also benefits for the foster carer and their family. If you have children of your own, a spare room will help foster children and your own children to adjust to the fostering lifestyle with minimising disruption.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what’s involved in becoming a foster carer, click here.

*For further information about Fostering Services, you can view the National Minimum Standards Regulations 2011. See section 10.6 in relation to spare rooms.

Child Safety Warning: Snapchat Maps Update That Reveals Users’ Locations

Police forces have raised child safety concerns about a new Snapchat feature that reveals users’ locations amid fears it could expose children to potential predators.

Parents have been warned to turn off the “Snap Map” feature on their children’s phones after Snapchat, which is a wildly popular messaging service among teenagers, introduced the location-sharing mode this week.

On the latest version of the app, “Snap Map” can be launched by pinching the Snapchat camera home screen. From here, users can choose to share their location with all friends, some of them or none of them with “ghost mode”, which hides their location but still pinpoints the location of other users, marking them with their Bitmoji character.

While the feature has been designed to help friends meet up or attend events together it has raised fears that it could be abused. Parents are being urged to make sure their children select “ghost mode”, and not the other two options.

The digital world is changing all the time and it’s vital to stay updated with how to keep your children safe online. For more tips on internet safety, click here

Are your foster kids at risk? New smartphone apps to watch out for

New apps come out almost every day, but how do you know which ones are suitable for children? Whereas some have age limits or are generally no-go zones, others are safe in themselves but get abused by trolls. It can be hard to tell.

Luckily, the West Midlands Police and Ofsted keep a list of over 100 apps to be aware of. You’ll find it in full at the end of the article, but first let’s take a look at a few trending now.

New apps to be aware of

Lovoo

This dating app uses the location of your child’s smartphone – and therefore your child – to search for nearby people to engage in private chats with. It also has a paid VIP option that lets users look at your profile anonymously so you don’t know if they’ve seen your photos and details. Definitely not for children.

Woozworld

Although it’s generally an innocent gaming app – letting your child fashion a character and do quests in a virtual world – Woozworld’s chat features could be abused by dishonest people. There’s no accountability as you only need a parent’s email address to sign up, and there’s no way of telling who strangers really are.

That being said, the game itself is fine for children. If you’re happy for them to play, advise them to only chat with people they know and to never give out any personal information. If strangers start talking to them, they should speak to you immediately.

Monkey

An app that lets you Facetime with randomly selected strangers, Monkey is by its nature risky business. There’s no telling what someone will be doing when their live video feed starts playing on your screen, so there’s no way of preventing inappropriate images.

In addition, because users can follow each other on SnapChat after connecting on Monkey, what starts as a random encounter could escalate with sustained contact. Another app that’s not for children.

A great app for parents: Gallery Guardian

Many children take inappropriate photos of themselves without thinking about the consequences. But with Gallery Guardian, an app that detects nudity in images, you’ll know if it ever happens.

If your child takes or is sent an explicit photo, or downloads one from the internet, an alert is sent to your smartphone so you can deal with the problem. The app has a 96% success rate so it’s well worth getting.

More apps that could cause problems

Don’t panic if you find a child using these apps, it could be perfectly harmless. Just make sure you look them up on Google to find out exactly what they involve. Search for: “Is [app name] suitable for my children?” Then talk to whoever’s using them so they understand the risks and the right way to behave.

Content sharing apps

4ChanDeviantArtDubsmashFoursquareHouse Party
KamStarKeekLive.lyLive.meMedium
Musical.lyMyMFBPeachPeriscopePheed
RedditRenrenSecret PianoSlingshotVimeo
VKWeiboWishboneYellow FriendsYouNow


Dating apps

BadooBlendrDownFuzzGaydar
GrindrGuy SpyHookedUpHornetHot or Not
HuggleMeetMeMeetupMyLOLSkout
SnogSwipe FlirtsTeenberTinderTwoo
W-matchWaplogZoosk  


Gaming apps

Bin WeevilsBoom BeachClash of ClansClub PenguinDouble Dog
Habbo HotelMinecraftMiniclipMoshi MonstersMovieStarPlanet
RobloxRunescapeSecond LifeSteamTwitch
World of WarcraftWoozworldZgirls  


Messaging apps

Ask.fmBattlenetBBMBurn NoteCake
Chat AvenueChatrouletteCurseCyber DustDischord
DisqusFMYLifeGroupMeICQInstaMessage
Kik MessengerKK FriendsLineLive ChatMeow Chat
MumbleOmegleooVooSayHiSend safe
SecretShoutoutSignalSnapchatStreamago
TangoTeamSpeakTelegramTigerTextVentrillo
ViberVoxerWeChatWhisperWickr
Yik YakZello PTTZobe  

 

 

10 tips to keep the kids safe when they chat online, share and play

The internet has endless entertainment and opportunity to offer, but it does have a nasty side too. With cybercrime on the rise, it’s important to make sure our families are well versed in online etiquette, from protecting their identities to steering clear of bullies.

Here are the 10 most essential topics to discuss with your foster children to keep them safe as they learn and grow online.

  1. Encourage them to share safe selfies

Children, like adults, sometimes share inappropriate photos without thinking about the long-term impact. An image sent to one person can be posted online and seen by thousands, and it can stay on the internet forever. So advise them to only share what they’re happy for the world to see.

  1. Keep their personal information offline

Protect your family from potential risks like identity theft. Set social media accounts to private, and remove phone numbers and other personal information from public sites.

  1. Make sure they’re old enough for the networks they use

It may sound obvious, but many children lie about their age and set up social media accounts before they should be. Check the age limits and help them understand why some content is not suitable for younger people.

  1. Switch off location sharing in apps

Some smartphones share their location with games and apps, which is a risk to the privacy of the people using them. You can turn off location sharing in the settings menu – ask Google if you need instructions for how to find them on your specific model of smartphone.

  1. Advise them to only chat and play with real friends

Let your foster children know that some people hide behind fake profiles, so try to only play games and chat with people you know. If you’re unsure who you’re talking to or playing with, don’t tell them who you are or give them any personal information.

  1. Explain the difference between friends and followers

Whereas friends are people you know and trust, followers are usually strangers who may have a shared interest but may not have the best intentions. Some kids have hundreds of followers, so advise them to block suspicious people and tighten their security settings.

  1. Tell them to think before sharing embarrassing posts

As with inappropriate images, some posts include controversial opinions or silly actions that seem like a good idea at the time, but probably won’t after a few years. Help your foster children understand how to think critically about what should and should not be shared.

  1. Deal with Cyberbullying

Stay calm and don’t judge if you ever suspect your foster child is being bullied on- or offline. Talk to them, listen and reassure that you can help. Encourage them to save any evidence and not to retaliate.

  1. Prepare them for social media in moderation

Set some restrictions on how much time your foster children can spend online each day, and try to keep to the rules yourself too. It’s unhealthy for anyone, especially a developing child, to spend too much time focusing on a screen and living their life online. Moderation is key.

  1. Show them how to be a good digital citizen

As well as being wary of the risks online, make sure your foster children understand that their actions can hurt others too.

They should be mindful not to attack or ridicule opinions they don’t agree with, and they should understand the consequences of peer pressure and offensive content. Only when we all consider each other can the internet be as enjoyable and safe as it should be.