Foster carers provide full-time care, support and a home for vulnerable children and young people.
The child can be anything from a few days old to 18 years and could be in care for a variety of different reasons, from a family member’s short-term illness to the child being subject to abuse and/or neglect. A stint with any one carer can be on a long, medium or short term basis. The role can also act as a medium between the child’s biological family and any potential adoption process.
Whilst the fostering panel have the final say, carers do have an input on the kind of child that they take on (older, younger, more or less challenging etc.) and how many children they take on at any one time.
Choosing to foster is a life changing decision and should not be taken lightly but if it is the right job for you, it can be both enjoyable and hugely rewarding.
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This varies from one authority to another. Foster carers get a weekly allowance per child – with the amount depending on their age, a weekly reward payment per child (this varies depending on which level you are – see career progression), travelling expenses and extra payments for birthdays, Christmas and holidays.
The holiday, Christmas and birthday payments are a set amount, so if more is spent then it comes out of the child’s allowance.
Outside of that, you also get funding for all of the child’s material needs including clothes, bedding, food, toys, expenses for social activities and extra heating costs etc.
- Provide a home and care for children in need. This can last for anything from a few hours, to a number of years.
- Liaise with the child’s support network and relevant family members, to help fulfil the child’s needs.
- Ensure that they receive as normal an upbringing as possible – access to education, regular interaction with other children etc.
- Undertake ongoing training and complete regular assessments.
You don’t need any prior qualifications but will be required to undertake training and assessment as part of the initial assessment process. The training usually covers such matters as ‘loss and attachments’, case studies, behaviour issues, coping with unusual situations and the legal system, amongst others. During the assessment you will have to show that you understand children and their needs.
An NVQ (England) or SVQ (Scotland) in Social Care is thought highly of and can be achieved while fostering.
Personal skills take precedence over academic ability and requirements include a stable home life, a caring nature and a desire to work with children. There is no maximum age limit or ideal family situation and each application is reviewed on its own merits. See the case study for more details.
The nature of the role means that with the exception of meetings and visits, the vast majority of work is done from home. There are no working hours as such, with carers taking on 24/7 responsibility for the duration of a child’s stay.
A history in care work or working with children will help but is not essential. Having brought up children of your own is a plus but again, not essential.
Foster carers are self employed but are passed by a particular agency to work for them. In some cases it is their local council but in many cases it is an independent agency. These include:
- NCH (National Children’s Home)
- Carolina Trust
Each agency is overseen by the Care Quality Commission in England and the Care Commission in Scotland.
Every authority is different but some use a three tier system such as this one:
- Level one carers do simple basic caring, such as that involving babies and young children and they often take breaks between placements.
- Level two is awarded if you achieve a set of criteria which include working with different types of behaviour, report writing, caring for a certain length of time, working with the system and having a knowledge of how it works.
- Level three is usually achieved after significant time and challenging work. It also requires training, knowledge of the legal system and social work structure, supervising contact with parents when needed and carrying out other appropriate tasks.
Each level brings a slightly higher financial reward.
Also known as…
- Boarding-home care
What’s it really like?
Claire (not her real name for child protection reasons) lives in Scotland and has been a foster carer for the past 13 years. She lives with her husband and their two youngest children.
Why did you decide to get involved?
We had the room and my brother, who was a director of a fostering agency, said he thought we would make good carers because of our attitude towards our own children’s needs (our oldest son has Aspergers Syndrome).
I wanted to try it and see if we managed, as the thought of helping a child cope, giving them good wholesome experiences and worthwhile memories, made me think that the role would be rewarding and enjoyable.
Is it something that you had always wanted to do?
I had always been a carer (I used to be a nurse) and it came naturally to me to help others. Though I had not thought about fostering, I always thought that I would work in a caring situation.
What are the best parts of the job?
There are so many ‘best’ parts. They are usually the feedback you get from the children.
One child said to me, “When I was sad, I always had a dream that I lived in the country with a lovely family and brothers and sisters”. I said, “Well maybe it will come true” and the child said, “It has!” There are so many magical moments every day.
…and the worst?
Sometimes the legal system is hard on the child and causes them distress. You tend to take every child under your wing and so feel the painful bits with them but are often powerless to help, as the decision making is out of your hands.
This can be hard, especially if you have your own children and have been used to having so much say in deciding what is best for them. You have to accept this and have a voice but have patience too and accept the system.
There are also difficult times with family members whose pain is evident and often directed at us, just for being better at the parenting bit than they were.
Is there any one thing you would change about the job or the foster caring system?
The ‘jobsworths’ of this world who won’t make decisions for fear of the backlash. The needs of the child MUST be put first in every decision made for them….and that in turn would make my life much easier.
What would you say are the main skills and abilities required to do the job?
Patience, the ability to forgive, the ability to identify the child’s real needs (which are not necessarily the same as their wants), listening skills and the ability to love any child no matter who they are. It sounds big but it’s not that difficult. You have to rise above the….”You’re not my mum, I hate you” thing, which is rare but does happen, and the rewards will come.
What advice would you give someone that is considering becoming a foster carer?
Start small with respite care (short-term) or kids with no identified severe behaviour problems. Take any support offered and don’t jump in with your eyes shut. Finding another foster family willing to give you advice and support 24/7 will also help to build up your confidence, during your first placements.
It’s also something you should do as a family where applicable. I consider my own birth children as being foster carers too as we do it as a family. Our own family needs are very important.
What does a typical day in your life consist of?
Routine meals, school, the kids’ social life, my social life, contact arrangements (e.g. a child’s visit with a parent) numerous phone calls, huge supermarket shopping (on-line!), emails from social workers, bed time routines, family time, making sure everyone is cuddled every day, making sure everyone gets a chance to tell us what their day was like. Sorting things out, washing (LOADS of washing), leaving a key for the teenagers if I’m out, meetings, arranging childcare so that I can get to meetings and lots more!
However, I have to say that this is my choice to be this busy and I could slow down if I wanted or needed to. If I can’t take a child because I have other things going on, I say no when they ask me and I’m respected for that.
Finally, do you expect your working arrangements to change much as time goes by?
I think we may tone it down a bit as we get older and perhaps do less emergency work and more long term work….but not yet!