People who are wondering about entering fostering tend not to ask the questions they really want to know. They usually vague questions such as;
"What's it like?'
If I was starting out again I'd ask the following, more specific questions.
And I'll try to answer them honestly, from my own personal experience.
Q: "On the whole is fostering worth doing?"
A: "All life's big things; love, marriage (or partnership of whatever flavour), children, family, and work, are what you make them. Fostering has its challenges, I'll be quite honest about that, but on the whole it's fantastic (otherwise I wouldn't still be doing it). In fact, for me, it's the best thing I've ever done.
Q: "Is it hard to get into?"
A: "Takes time. After you've phoned or emailed your local authority or a fostering agency, and said; "I'm interested in becoming a foster parent" someone will visit you and have a chat. They're making an early quick-fire assessment. Some people aren't right for it; maybe their home isn't right, might be their situation, (eg free-roaming pet snakes, the only spare bedroom being the utility room next to the washing machine....)
I don't know what percentage fall at the first hurdle, but no-one's time is wasted. There follows a period of six to twelve months where you get regular visits at home from a specialist social worker whose job is to go through all your circumstances. I've been through this twice, found it fun and helped me focus. They dig into your whole life. They're not looking for perfect angels, those people don't exist. They are interested in how you've dealt with the different difficulties we all face in life.
Q: "Is there an exam?"
A: "No. At the end of your assessment you go and see a panel of people, sounds scary, but they are friendly and supportive. You must be good to have got thus far."
Q: "Do you have any say in which children are placed with you?"
A: "Definitely. Even before you're approved the social workers will be working with you on what sort of profile your ideal placements will be. Some people are better suited to teenagers. Some will prefer younger kids. A lot depends on the shape of your family, especially if you have children of your own. Some carers are initially cautious about children who've had their troubles. Some are worried about being thrown in at the deep end, so they opt for weekend respite (you get a child to foster from Friday afternoon to the next Sunday evening)."
Q:"Are you on your own?"
A: "No! Each foster carer has their own designated social worker whose job is to help, advise and support the foster carer. Mine visit at least once per month, for a whole morning. They are always there at the end of the phone. Plus I can attend support groups with other carers to chew things over. Your foster child has their own designated social worker who also visits regularly, and works with your own social worker to keep things on track. Frankly, in all my years and so many different jobs, I've never felt better supported.
Q: "What happens if things aren't working out?"
A: "Good question. You know, I sometimes wonder if they ever seem to be working as I'd like! But if a carer is having frustrations that's when you pick up the phone for support. And of it gets too much for you, you can always end the placement.
Q: "If I end a placement will that be the end of my fostering career?"
A: " No, (unless that's what you want). The UK needs all the foster carers we can get. Your qualifications and credentials are valuable, it's up to the system to play to your strengths. I found that things got easier the more fostering I did, I got familiar with the stresses and strains and learned better to identify the joys."
Q: "What's the hardest thing about fostering?"
A: "For me, and this is only my personal view, the biggest bugbear is Contact. This is where foster children have to be taken to see their real parents (or 'significant others') frequently as often as once a week. It can be very upsetting and often disrupts your efforts to get the child on an even keel. They don't get much from it, nothing they couldn't get from a phone call or even a text message session. In my experience the children just want to know their parents are alive and okay. The idea that it paves the way for the children to return to their real home is basically misguided, especially at first.
The other thing you have to live with is that foster children don't fall on their knees in gratitude when they walk through the door that their foster carers are offering them a much better home life. They don't see it that way because they're frightened, mixed-up or angry. Or all three. But as time goes by they warm and mellow, always. Then the real fostering begins, up until then it's about basic needs, but once they get it, you can do a bit of healing.
Q: "How does the Allowance work?"
A: "Fostering is a profession. We are all professionals. Our remittance is termed an 'allowance' rather than a salary or a wage because i) we are only in receipt when we have a child or children in place ii) If it were called a wage then the fact that we are basically on call 24/7 would mean we'd fall below the National Minimum hourly wage. The basic payment varies according to your local authority or your agency. Last year I received £31,000 in allowances (there are 35,000 hours in a year so if I was paid hourly it would be less than £1 an hour). I paid a tiny amount of income tax. I get credits for my NI contributions. Fostering allowances are taxed very sensibly by the Inland Revenue because the foster carer's overheads are hard to calculate so they're very sympathetic. And it's all above board, don't worry about that, it's official; we are special cases.
Q: "Is there anything else I should know?"
A: "Sweet Jericho, yes! Lorry loads. But the bulk of it is stuff you have to find it out for yourself as you go along, and so you do. Each child is so utterly unique you have to make tailored arrangements to help their specific needs, and that means making your fostering up as you go along. There's paperwork; not much. Blue Sky ask you to fill in a report every so often on the child. There's training, and social events. But mostly you're just finding out how to be a good mum or dad to a particular poor lonely child who's done nothing wrong to end up sad, worried and frightened.
Any other questions, you can post a comment or send me a private email via Blue Sky.