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.