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.

If you are in the early stages of considering a move to another provider or have made up your mind call Nicky on Freephone 08082849211 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 £390 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.

Types of fostering – Part Three

At Alpha Plus Fostering, we often see that a crisis within a family can happen and a child needs a safe and stable environment, it can be for a relatively short period of time.

Children can often be returned to their birth family when the social services act effectively to help parents cope with the difficulties they are having.

This means that short term foster caring is a vital role, giving a family flexibility and choices where otherwise they might not exist.

In some instances the local authority might decide that long term fostering is the best option for a young person, but a period of short term care is needed first so they can evaluate the situation and its at this point, along with other types of fostering that Alpha can help.

Sometimes short term foster care is necessary because a parent or carer is in hospital or recovering from an illness, leaving children with no adult to take care of them.

If you have been investigating the possibility of becoming a foster carer, short term fostering is an essential part of the range of caring roles that the team at Alpha Plus Fostering organises.

Most people who come to foster caring do so because they are empathetic, caring and have a powerful need to make a difference to the lives of young people.

However, long term fostering is not an option for everyone, due to work, family and other lifestyle commitments.

Short term placements can be equally rewarding and can work better with families who cannot commit to longer than two years with a placement.

Many short term foster placements last for a matter of weeks or a few months, but in that time it is possible to make an immense difference to a vulnerable young person and Alpha can support you all the way in your short term fostering journey.

The Fostering Mindset

The journey towards becoming a foster carer is often a time of uncertainty; families and individuals who are exploring fostering for the first time can find themselves wondering if they have the right skills.

The journey towards becoming a foster carer is often a time of uncertainty; families and individuals who are exploring fostering for the first time can find themselves wondering if they have the right skills.

Adults with patience, understanding and an ability to put themselves in the shoes of a young person experiencing difficulties in their life are key.

If you have brought up children of your own or have cared for children in some capacity, you might well have the skills and experience to be a great help to other young people in need.

Being able to be consistent, reliable and to provide stability to children who may never have experienced any of these qualities is also essential.

Successful foster placements rely on a mentality, a fostering mindset that involves putting a foster child first.

Considering a child’s needs above your own might seem like common sense to many of us, simply the obvious thing to do.

For many children in need of foster care, abandonment has been a key feature of their lives and being nurtured by a reliable adult they can trust is vital.

Increasingly, we all live ever more hectic and busy lifestyles. Working life and leisure pastimes take up large portions of our days and nights.

You might need to consider what available time you have, because fostering requires a commitment to put the child first.

Potential foster parents who have the skills, the patience, empathy and available time to make a major difference to a young person’s life are vital to the care of vulnerable children across the UK.

Alpha Plus Fostering does not discriminate on the grounds of marital status, gender, culture, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Foster Care or Adoption: Which is Right for You?

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we often see that for many people who might not have explored foster parenting before, the distinctions between fostering and adoption might not be clear.

If you are considering either fostering or adoption and are not sure which might be right for you or your family, the team at Alpha Plus have written this article as a short guide to the differences between the two.

If you adopt a child you are recognised as their parent in the eyes of the law.

A foster carer is recognised as the legal guardian of the child for as long as the placement continues, but they do not have the same legal status as a parent.

Fostering is often a short-term arrangement or if it is on-going care it will ultimately end when the young person reaches adulthood.

Because adoption is a different process to foster caring, it suits people who often have different needs. If you are considering either fostering or adoption it is important to explore your own motivations and hopes.

If you see your future roll with a child as that of being a parent, adoption might be a more suitable choice. If you would prefer to act as a carer to one or possibly a couple of children (depending on your capacity to house them), fostering might be appropriate.

If you chose fostering, Alpha Plus Foster Care offers on-going support, training and mentoring for every fostering placement you take on.

In addition to this there is a generous allowance of £366 per child per week, which covers the entire cost of housing, feeding, clothing a foster child and gives the carer an income.

At Alpha Plus, we believe that both adoption and fostering are valuable and essential in their own right and give children who need it the most real security and stability in their lives. It is important, however, that carers choose for themselves based on their own needs how they want to make a difference to young people’s lives.

Essentials for Prospective Foster Parents

What every prospective foster parent needs to know!

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we maintain that knowing and understanding the child or young person who has been placed in your care is the most essential and important part of the fostering process and it begins before the placement even starts.

Fostering relationships are like any other kind of relationship, they depend on trust, openness and the foster placement knowing that you are on their side. This is why at Alpha Plus we make sure you know the background, circumstances and needs of the children and young people who will be placed with you.

All foster children have faced major challenges in their lives and come to foster care with specific and often complex problems. Some prospective foster carers can feel anxious or worried that the problems the foster child faces or their behaviour might be overwhelming.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care, we have seen in some cases, a child or young person in foster care exhibiting very extreme defiant or anti social behaviour but this is by no means all cases.

We are careful to match the child with the right foster parents with the skills and outlook to cater for their needs and we make sure that the carer knows everything about the child before the placement begins.

Prospective carers also need to know about the support that is available to them before the placement starts.

Alpha Plus offers constant support and mentoring from our staff and from experienced fostering mentors (foster carers who have successfully completed many placements). This means that as a new foster carer, you are not stranded or alone to deal with whatever challenges might arise.

This security frees our carers up to do what they do best, care. It enables them to put their energies, commitment, emotional strength and love into a fostering relationship.

This gives the foster placement the stability and security they require.

Emergency Fostering

Children leave their biological parents for many reasons, for example sometimes the parent simply needs some respite or is unwell and cannot cope. This is where Alpha Plus Foster Care can help with emergency fostering help and support.

However, sometimes it is necessary for social services to act quickly to prevent harm occurring to a child, or some unforeseen event happens that leaves a child without their parents. It is this kind of short notice emergency foster care that is in high demand from social services up and down the country.

For children desperate for a safe, secure and stable home to welcome them at short notice, the foster carer is the fourth emergency service. What young people need in the midst of a crisis is someone who is calm consistent and reliable, often children entering the care system have not experienced these qualities in adults before.

An unexpected emergency foster placement can turn a child’s world upside down and result in all manner of devastating emotions and feelings.

This is why a stable place to stay for a few days, weeks or even longer is invaluable to help the foster placement start to process what has happened to them. An emergency foster carer needs to have a bedroom set aside at all times for a young person to stay in and you must expect to be called on 24 hours a day.

Often children can be traumatised by the experience of emergency foster care or the events that led up to entering care, so being sensitive to these needs is essential.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we often see young people emotionally distressed, often exhibiting challenging or difficult behaviours, but with time and understanding they make significant progress.

LGBT Fostering

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we often notice that many people wrongly assume that their sexuality will discount them from becoming an approved foster carer. In fact, it is illegal to discriminate against potential foster carers because of their sexual orientation.

It seems hard to imagine that it has only been a decade since discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples and individuals preventing them from fostering was made unlawful.

In the past decade, the contribution that LGBT carers have made to the lives of thousands of children across the UK has been immense.

In 2006 the law changed, allowing both foster or adoptive carers in an LGBT couple to appear as legal guardians on the adoption or fostering paperwork.

This change has resulted in a steady increase in LGBT foster carers; with both parents’ rights acknowledged by law, fostering has become far more viable and attractive to couples.

However, as we celebrate LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week, Alpha Plus Foster Care wants to reach out to couples who have considered fostering and who may be able to offer a home to a vulnerable child or teenager.

Normally, couples and individuals considering foster care for the first time have a range of questions about the kinds of qualities that are required in order to foster.

The ‘fostering mindset’ is the most important attribute that any prospective carer needs; empathy, patience, the ability to nurture and to support are all vital components of this outlook.

When children and young people enter foster care, they are vulnerable and can display challenging behaviour.

A foster carer needs to be able to offer stability and security, as they will be caring for children who’s lives have become chaotic and bewildering.

LGBT foster carers who can offer stability to young people who have experienced abandonment by other adults in their lives can make great contributions to their well being.

In a recent article in the Guardian newspaper about LGBT fostering and adoption, it was revealed that in the past decade LGBT foster carers had often been more willing to care for children with behavioural problems or other special needs.

Whilst prejudice against non heterosexual carers has declined and society has become more educated and open minded, Alpha Plus Foster Care still find that recruiting LGBT carers is still a challenge.

Many LGBT people are unaware that they have a legal right be considered as a candidate to foster.

In 2013 Action for Children revealed that just under a third of all LGBT people in the UK believed that they were barred from fostering or adoption on the grounds of their sexuality or gender identity.

The social workers interviewed tended to view them as more accepting, tolerant and able to see the positives in young people.

They also believed that they would be better able to support a child who felt ‘different’ (a feeling nearly every foster child experiences), with compassion and empathy.

What to expect when you’re applying to foster

When prospective carers are deciding whether or not fostering is right for them, at Alliance Foster Care we are aware that understanding of the application process is very important.

Fostering is both the offer of a long term commitment to a child and it is also the offer of a secure, stable and nurturing home environment.

This means it is important that foster carers who are suited to the role are selected and supported to face the many challenges that fostering will inevitably present them with.

The Alliance Foster Care’s selection procedure is therefore very thorough, but seeks to be as inclusive as possible, making sure that people with a wide range of circumstances are considered.

During the application process you will have to complete a disclosure and baring service background check, and whilst a previous criminal conviction does not automatically prevent someone from foster caring it is important for all prospective carers to be honest and open.

Before there is any need for background checks, however, trained fostering workers from Alpha Plus will carry out a home visit to get to know you.

Often, our social workers and fostering assessors can find out as much about your suitability to foster by having a chat and helping you to explore your own feelings and motivations in fostering.

Alliance Foster Care’s selection process is designed to support prospective carers all the way through to their first foster placement; ensuring first time foster carers get the best fostering match possible helps the carers and the placement.

It is important not to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the selection process, our assessors know that it can seem like a major undertaking and are understanding your concerns and questions.

Instead, view it as a first opportunity to learn more about fostering and your role as a prospective foster carer.

Fostering and the whole family

One of the pre-requisites for fostering with Alpha Plus Foster Care is prior experience of raising children either as a parent or guardian. This means that most carers (though not all) who work with us already have families of their own.

This can be a source of immense stability and strength for both foster carers and the children they look after, especially when they are new to fostering. Fostering can also present a family with challenges as new children enter the family unit with needs and concerns of their own.

If you are parents with children of your own, you must prepare carefully before you begin your first fostering placement. Your own children will have many expectations both positive and negative about how the foster placement in their home will affect their lives.

At Alpha Plus we believe that it is important to fully explore these feelings with them, even if at first they seem to be unrealistic or overly anxious.

If you are fostering with a partner or spouse it is also important that you explore how each other is feeling both before and during the placement.

The young person who comes to live with you and your family might well have strong feelings of abandonment or have come from a home background without stability or routine.

By welcoming them into your home you are offering the opportunity of becoming part of the warmth and stability that has often been lacking in their lives.

A family environment can be one of the most important and nurturing experiences for a young person in foster care, but in order for the placement to be successful the family’s needs also have to be addressed.

At Alpha Plus we often see that communicating, especially when there might be challenging behaviour or unmanageable feelings from the young person in your care, your family will be able to handle whatever issues fostering presents.

Learning Fostering Skills

As a society, we are used to the idea that there are expert doctors, dentists, teachers or lawyers. It is less common for foster carers to be seen as experts in their field, but many have years of knowledge, experience and understanding in a vocation that presents all manner of challenges.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we often see new foster carers inevitably experience a learning curve when they accept their first foster placement and the most successful caring experiences are those based on training and knowledge.

It goes without saying that most carers new to fostering bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience from their family lives and careers, but in caring there is always something new to learn.

At Alpha Plus we provide a comprehensive training package to all new foster carers who work with us.

In a society that is constantly changing (along with the young people in it), no fostering organisation can afford for its members not to constantly add to their skills and knowledge.

If you are a new applicant with us, you will be invited on to a three day Skills to Foster course, which will equip you with the latest child protection and child safety skills.

In addition to this you will begin to learn how to deal with challenging behaviour, equality and diversity issues from highly experienced carers and the best practices they have used.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care we know that learning doesn’t simply take place on training courses and the most valuable learning you will do is with your foster placement, the children you care for will be your best teachers. However, to make sure you are fully supported, we offer ongoing professional development on a range of different skills and the opportunity to learn online.

Statement from Iain Anderson

There have been a number of debates in the press recently regarding cash incentives or other inducements being offered by a small number of independent fostering providers and some Local Authorities to ‘poach’ foster carers who are already registered with either an Independent Provider or a Local Authority.

Just for the record, at Alpha Plus we never have and never will offer cash incentives to poach foster carers. There are currently over 93,000 looked after children in the United Kingdom of whom 55,400 are with foster families registered with either a Local Authority or an Independent Fostering Provider. Fostering Network, an established charity in the sector, noted in January 2016 there was a national shortfall of 9,070 foster carers.Fostering services, whether they be independent or public sector, should focus on encouraging new families to come forward to fill the shortage that Fostering Network has identified; poaching from each other is not the way nor is it ethical. Any provider, irrespective of being independent or public sector should abide by a professional ‘no poaching’ code, and, if this is not practicable then we would support the Government taking a stance to outlaw this.

Foster Carers have the right to be registered with whichever Agency or Service they choose and base that choice on the support and training they receive from their selected provider. There is little or no comparable and validated evidence in terms of cost differentials between independent and public provision, but there is evidence of a difference in the service levels to carer households and also the regulatory outcomes of all providers that are a matter of public record.The continual public outbursts between organisations about who should be able to do ‘what and how’ are becoming extremely tiresome. Children’s services is a highly regulated service and one that is continually in the public eye and my suggestion to all those battling it out in the media today is that it would be better if they focused their efforts and attention on the vulnerable children and young people that we are here to support and forget their personal profiles.

Specialist Fostering

Foster care can be necessary for children and young people for a range of reasons, but there are some foster placements that are the result of abuse and neglect.

The most traumatised, damaged and distressed children need carers with specialist skills in order to help them firstly navigate the challenges of foster care itself and secondly deal with the results of abuse and neglect.

Other children who are already in the foster care system and who have had traumatic experiences might have found it hard to fit in a number of foster families.

Where foster care continues to break down and the young person is left without a family who can look after them, a specialist foster carer might be called upon to offer a place. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect or who’s families have been devastated by a bereavement can present specific challenges to the people looking after them.

This means that the carer often needs as much support as the foster placement, and at Alpha Plus Foster Care we provide this through skilled professionals who work with our foster carers and their families.

At Alpha Plus, we carefully match the needs of foster placements to the skills and experiences of foster carers to avoid carers being overwhelmed. Specialist foster care is caring at its most challenging, but it is also caring at its most rewarding.

Children who have experienced abuse in their formative years or who have been abandoned by their biological parents are desperately in need of adults in their lives that they can trust.

To be able to offer a young person the type of stability, reliability and emotional security that they have lacked in their family home is a rare commodity.

However, the patience and care that you can put into a vulnerable young person will be rewarded by the knowledge that you will have made a significant difference to their life.

Fostering Siblings

Often when children and young people are placed into foster care they have brothers and sisters. Some siblings stay with the birth family, but others can be fostered together and at Alpha Plus Foster Care we frequently require foster carers who are able to offer sibling groups a secure and loving environment.

Fostering multiple children at once can enable brothers and sisters to stay together at a time of immense emotional disruption in their lives.

Some of the only stability they might have in their lives when they enter foster care can come from each other.

However, this can present foster carers with additional challenges in providing the young people in their care with a stable and secure home environment.

Having several young people to cater for can put a carer’s organisation and time management skills to the test.

It can also be a pressure on the space in your home, so having enough room, time, resources and patience to adequately provide for multiple children is essential.

At Alpha Plus we look to recruit carers who already have experience of parenting and it follows that parents who have raised several children will be well placed to cater for sibling groups.

We also make sure that with every foster placement that carers are supported and given all the help, advice and assistance they need to make the placement a success.

Sibling groups, just like individual children, might well exhibit challenging behaviour during a foster placement.

Children struggling to deal with unmanageable feelings and complex emotions can present an individual or a collective challenge to the carer.

However, a stable, supportive and loving environment where adults can see beyond the behaviour and understand the child can often help them make considerable progress.

Helping siblings to stay together and help each other can be one of the most rewarding aspects of foster care.

First steps to fostering

Becoming a foster carer is a major life decision and not one that anyone enters into without serious consideration and care.

At first the process of becoming a foster carer might seem complex and daunting, but at Alpha Plus Foster Care we support all prospective carers throughout.

Once you’ve first made contact a carer recruitment officer will get in touch and explain more about the fostering role with Alpha Plus Foster Care and assess your eligibility.

The next step will be an initial home visit from a social worker who will come to your home and discuss fostering with you in greater depth.

At this stage it will be important to see whether you have a spare room that is suitable to be used as a child’s bedroom so this is something that should be prepared in advance.

Following the visit, you will need to submit a formal application and then you will be visited over a period of weeks by a fostering assessor and there is a mandatory disclosure and barring check.

The assessment stage includes a three day ‘skills to foster course’. Following this there is a selection panel that candidates attend to find out if they have been selected as carers.

This might seem like a rigorous and lengthy process but it is designed to make sure that carers make informed decisions and won’t be overwhelmed by the challenges of fostering.

Above all, throughout the process you must be able to show that you can offer a secure, stable and supportive home to a young person facing difficulties in their life.

If you feel that you can offer an environment to a young person that reassures, nurtures and offers commitment and stability, then you probably have many of the attributes required of a foster carer.

Finding support from other foster parents

The first foster placement for a newly trained carer is invariably a daunting and challenging task.

Taking a step into the unknown and inviting a child into your home who will normally be dealing with a range of overwhelming feelings requires support and help.

All foster carers, whether new to caring or not receive close support and help from us at Alpha Plus Foster Care, as we put carer well-being as a top priority.

However, another very effective tier of support for carers that should not be overlooked is the support they give each other.

Peer support and mentoring in foster caring is invaluable; hearing directly from another person who has experienced (and overcome) the same challenges can help to make difficult situations seem manageable.

Fostering requires a wide range of talents, from managing the mundane and the everyday (dealing with schools, bedtimes, pocket money and routines), to coping with the fears and worries that foster children invariably have.

Challenging behaviour or dealing with a child in distress can be overwhelming for even the most experienced adult to deal with on their own.

Friends and family who are not carers might be able to sympathise, but they rarely have the insight required to help because they have not experienced fostering first hand.

This is why a fostering mentor is such an invaluable resource for carers, someone who knows your situation because they have been there themselves.

Having this kind of expert help can make all the difference to carers and foster children and ensure that the placement is a success.

What to expect when you’re applying to foster

When prospective carers are deciding whether fostering is right for them, an understanding of the application process is very important.

Fostering is both the offer of a long-term commitment to a child and it is also the offer of a secure, stable and nurturing home environment. This means it is important that foster carers who are suited to the role are selected and supported to face the many challenges that fostering will inevitably present them with.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care, our selection procedure is therefore very thorough, but seeks to be as inclusive as possible, making sure that people with a wide range of circumstances are considered.

During the application process you will have to complete a disclosure and baring service background check, and whilst a previous criminal conviction does not automatically prevent someone from foster caring it is important for all prospective carers to be honest and open.

Before there is any need for background checks, however, our trained fostering workers will carry out a home visit to get to know you.

Often, our social workers and fostering assessors can find out as much about your suitability to foster by having a chat and helping you to explore your own feelings and motivations in fostering.

Our selection process, here at Alpha Plus, is designed to support prospective carers all the way through to their first foster placement; ensuring first time foster carers get the best fostering match possible helps the carers and the placement.

It is important not to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the selection process, our assessors know that it can seem like a major undertaking and are understand your concerns and questions. Instead, view it as a first opportunity to learn more about fostering and your role as a prospective foster parent.

What to expect when you’re applying to foster

When prospective carers are deciding whether fostering is right for them, an understanding of the application process is very important.

Fostering is both the offer of a long-term commitment to a child and it is also the offer of a secure, stable and nurturing home environment. This means it is important that foster carers who are suited to the role are selected and supported to face the many challenges that fostering will inevitably present them with.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care, our selection procedure is therefore very thorough, but seeks to be as inclusive as possible, making sure that people with a wide range of circumstances are considered.

During the application process you will have to complete a disclosure and baring service background check, and whilst a previous criminal conviction does not automatically prevent someone from foster caring it is important for all prospective carers to be honest and open.

Before there is any need for background checks, however, our trained fostering workers will carry out a home visit to get to know you.

Often, our social workers and fostering assessors can find out as much about your suitability to foster by having a chat and helping you to explore your own feelings and motivations in fostering.

Our selection process, here at Alpha Plus, is designed to support prospective carers all the way through to their first foster placement; ensuring first time foster carers get the best fostering match possible helps the carers and the placement.

It is important not to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the selection process, our assessors know that it can seem like a major undertaking and are understand your concerns and questions. Instead, view it as a first opportunity to learn more about fostering and your role as a prospective foster parent.

Fostering background checks

It is a sad and unavoidable truth in Britain today that a small proportion of adults who are given positions of responsibility towards children harm them.

Many thousands of children in Britain sadly suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect at the hands of the very people who are entrusted with their well being.

Sometimes this is their own parents and in some cases the social services are involved and fostering arrangements and adoption can be possible solutions.

In other cases, teachers, youth workers, sports coaches and a wide range of other adults with access to children have been found guilty of abuse.

One factor that comes up in many cases of reported abuse is that next to nothing was known about the abuser and their past was allowed to remain secretive.

In recent years there have been considerable changes to the way information is shared to safeguard children.

At Alpha Plus Foster Care, the wellbeing of children and carers is our number one priority and we use the Disclosure and Baring Service to carry out background checks on all applicants.

The DBS check lists any prior criminal convictions that a person has had and any other relevant information that a police force or social services may hold on them. It is important that you inform our fostering assessors as soon as possible if you have had a criminal conviction in the past.

Depending on the circumstances of the conviction it might not automatically mean that a fostering application would be turned down.

If you have no prior convictions and you have never had a DBS check before, it is a routine process that everyone in Britain who works with children and vulnerable adults is required to undertake.

Remand fostering

When a young person is charged with a crime and is awaiting a court appearance, magistrates can place them on remand.

This is not the same as a prison sentence, which can only be imposed if the person has been convicted of a crime. Instead it is an order that keeps the young person in a secure location before a trial date and means they are safe and cannot commit further offences.

Placing a young person in a remand centre or adult prison while awaiting trial is a very drastic step that courts do not take lightly; an alternative to incarceration is the use of remand fostering.

Remand fostering is specialist foster care, where the children or young people are facing a court appearance. A young person who is accused of a crime might well exhibit signs of anxiety, distress or worry and you will need to be as supportive and understanding as possible.

You might find that young people on remand who you foster have already had previous convictions, but courts will normally place young people accused of serious offences in secure accommodation.

Part of your role will be to make sure that the young person in your care attends bail hearings and meets with solicitors, many will have chaotic lifestyles and lack the organisational skills needed to comply with the court’s wishes.

In addition to this, a young person on a remand foster placement might have the opportunity to show that they can interact with society in a positive way. This will be vital if they are convicted, as it might form the basis of pre sentencing reports ordered by the court to guide the judges in their decision making.

Remand foster caring is a challenging role for any carer but it can be one of the most rewarding. A young person’s future often hinges on the type of care they receive before they face a courtroom and the right carer can have an immense impact.

Fostering parents and children

Fostering can sometimes work for the whole family, especially when the parents of vulnerable children themselves need help, support and guidance.

If you are considering becoming a foster carer with Alpha Plus Foster Care, one type of fostering you might consider involves making a stable and supportive home for a parent and child experiencing difficulties. Invariably, parents with older or grown up children have accumulated valuable life skills and experience that can be passed on to younger parents who are struggling.

The parent and child foster carer has several roles, they are responsible for the well being and care for both the parent and child, but they also have a mentoring role too. Bringing a struggling parent into your home, often a young or teenage parent with little family support, is an ideal opportunity to help them develop their child care skills.

In today’s increasingly fragmented society, the opportunities to learn about being a parent from older generations is no longer available to everybody. Instead some young and often vulnerable parents grow up unable to cope with the many challenges that babies and small children present.

Being able to help guide a young person to care for their child, support them and give them a break from the many tiring tasks of parenting is often the key to enabling a happy family to flourish in the future.

The parent and child foster carer must be as patient, skilled, resilient and resourceful as a normal foster carer and have the time and energy to devote to at least two other people.

Often both the parent and child that require foster care can exhibit difficult behaviour as they both struggle with overpowering and unmanageable feelings.

However, with time, patience, support and above all love and understanding many parents and their children begin to make real progress towards having happy, fulfilled family lives of their own.