Our neighbours organised a Jubilee Street Party and there were two hangovers. One; what to do with the leftover beer? Two, the neighbour opposite us is thinking of becoming a Foster Carer.
Our school secretary nabbed me just before the end of term and said goodbye. She'd asked me lots of questions about fostering. Turned out she'd applied and was leaving the school office to do it full-time.
"OH, YOU'RE A FOSTER PARENT?"
People don’t miss much and if they see you a second time with a child they don’t recognise as yours, they are curious. You tell them you’re a carer, they say “That’s marvellous” and then try to find out what they can about the child, because now they’re even more curious. You explain about their right to privacy, so the conversation moves onto yourself, and fostering.
The first question is usually:
“HOW DID YOU GET INTO IT?”
We reply that it had been in our mind for some time, we like children and we had a spare bedroom. Carers can choose to be on the books of a local authority or a fostering agency. We prefer agencies as we suspect that if you’re with your local authority you’re dealing with a comparatively amorphous giant that has to manage everything from schools to wheelie bins, whereas with an agency everyone’s on the same page.
In our case, the town we lived in had a fostering agency based in a high street shop and we often found ourselves browsing the window. Then one day we went in, and that was the start. Then we moved home, found ourselves in a new area, and Googled “Fostering”. Blue Sky came up first. I phoned them and got a good feeling from chatting, so it went from there.
“HOW DO YOU FIND IT?”
We say it’s very rewarding, but that it is demanding. You’ll never be bored again.
“WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE DO IT?”
All sorts. All ages and backgrounds. Seems to be more women than men, but men do it too. You don’t have to be “happily married”, or even have had children of your own, but those things can sometimes help. Ditto with professional skills; if you are a teacher or have experience of youth work; great. But not essential. Foster Carers are normal people (whatever that is), who can try to offer a normal life to someone who needs just that.
Remember: normal people have had upheavals and turbulence in their lives. Good Foster Carers, for me, are people who have come through life's difficulties and maybe learned some universals about how to stay afloat.
“WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FOSTERING?”
Every looked-after child is unique, some more so than others. There are special areas such as Emergency cases (where a child needs a bed immediately - maybe 30 minutes from the first phone call). There’s Respite Care, where you take a child for a period (often a weekend) to give parents or other Carers a break. There’s something called “Parent and Child” where you give a temporary home to a parent (usually, but not always, the mother) and a new baby (though they can be older). The job is to help the parent learn parenting, and to monitor their progress.
“ I'VE HEARD THE VETTING PROCEDURE IS STRICT”
It's not "vetting". A Social Worker will visit you at home once a fortnight for a couple of hours at a time to fill in a form about your background. This lasts several months. Sure, they have to be confident people are up to it. If you've got some gaps in your background what Blue Sky do is try to help you fill in those gaps. Admittedly some people fall away. The stakes are high. It’s the rest of a young person’s life on the line. Nobody is ready to foster straight away, or at least do the job to the best of their ability. The period that runs up to a Carer being accepted is more about getting them ready for the job than finding fault with their wherewithal.
“DO THEY TRAIN YOU?”
Training is ongoing, on everything you need to do the job well. And the sessions are a good chance to socialise. You make friends for life with other Carers. These are people who have seen what you're seeing, and we need each other.
“DO THEY SUPPORT YOU?”
Each Carer has their own Social Worker who is your first port of call. They visit your home every month and are there anytime to advise and help. Blue Sky holds monthly support meetings where carers can pitch up and talk to staff and other carers. Blue Sky even has a 24 hour Out Of Hours service you can fall back on in the middle of the night. (Always tickles me it’s abbreviated to “OOH”)
“WHAT'S THE SITUATION WITH MONEY?”
Prospective Carers are usually reluctant to ask this question. It's like they’re worried about seeming mercenary. If I can persuade those people of one thing, it would be this: you should have the same pride in banking your remittance that any nurse, doctor or teacher has.
Foster Carers receive an allowance. It won’t change your life, but it can augment a family budget. Much of it is channelled to the child’s needs either directly (food, clothing, transport) or indirectly (their share of the utilities bills and the community charge). The remainder is your fair return for a job so vast and multi-faceted not even a City Banker could dream up a figure.
"WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?"
Get in touch. Now. In the time it's taken you to read this post, 3 more children have become people who need you. The process of becoming a Carer takes time, so make a call now.
The Secret Foster Carer