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 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.</>

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.

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.

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.

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.