In 2015, there were over 69,000 children in foster care throughout the UK, and this number is expected to increase over the next few years. Foster carers are an essential part of the support system that helps to ensure all children in the care system are provided with adequate support. Although it is often considered the same as adoption, fostering is as much a career choice as anything else. Like any other career that involves working with children, fostering is filled with challenges and rewards that will enrich the lives of everyone involved.
Why should you foster a child?
Becoming a foster carer is a life-changing decision that will have an impact on you and your entire family, so it is not one that should be taken lightly. The entire process takes around 6 months from the first application to being matched with a child, so there is plenty of time to ask questions and make sure it’s the right move for you. Foster carers are given ongoing training and opportunities to develop their communication skills. For this reason, it is a highly rewarding career choice. Foster carers are also paid an allowance based on their location and the number of children they take in, so it should be treated as a full-time job.
The many different types of fostering
Fostering is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of care arrangements for looked-after children. The most well-known is short-term care, that will offer a child a safe and secure place to live for a fixed period of time. There are also longer-term arrangements for children that are in need of a more permanent home. Some foster carers provide emergency care at short notice, while others provide short break care a few days a week, or to cover holidays or breaks for other foster carers. Some foster carers will get to know the child’s birth parents while others will have no contact; it all depends on the individual circumstances.
Many children in care will present different behavioural problems that may be distressing or difficult to handle. Even if you have your own children, no one expects you to become an expert foster carer overnight, and specialist training is provided to help you overcome the challenges faced. As mentioned earlier, contact with the child’s parents may be required with some children in care, and this can present a whole array of challenges. Interactions may be difficult, and you will have to remain impartial and open to everyone involved in the child’s life. Children are resilient and handle many things much better than grown ups, but they are still children and need to be protected for difficult situations.
How to start the process to become a foster carer
In the UK, there are two different routes to take. You can either contact your local authority or you can look at the options for a private fostering agency in your area. Private agencies will often be able to offer a more customised support system as they typically deal with fewer children, while your local authority will be able to ensure you don’t have a spare bed in your home for long. While local authorities tend to deal with all children, some agencies might deal with children with specific behavioural or health problems. It’s important to see all the options available to allow you to make an informed decision about which route to foster caring is right for you.