Why (to do it right) it takes 6 months to become a foster carer
Posted: Tuesday 23rd February 2021
You’d like to become a foster carer, fantastic, sign here please.
Too fast? Yes we think so too.
But how long does it take to become a foster carer, and why should it take 6 months, to do it right.
Fostering is much more than finding a safe bed and a roof over children’s heads. We need to get it right, the children deserve our best work not a rush job.
Here are 17 reasons why the fostering assessment takes 6 months, and why.
- Giving you the facts about fostering
- Why do you want to foster?
- The checks and references
- Skills to Foster Preparation Training
- When does the clock start ticking?
- “Newbies don't know what to ask”
- Your availability
- Your views, attitudes and comfort zone
- It gets a bit emotional
- How stable is your family life
- Change your mind, need a break?
- The whole family
- Matching you with a child you can help
- Preparing you for every eventuality
- We are not a business, we care
- We need to be sure
Giving you the facts about fostering
There is a lot of wrong information and myths about fostering out there. Many people’s idea of fostering is based on TV shows, soaps, movies, newspaper headlines or warnings from friends or family. The first part of our conversation is about information sharing and giving you the facts about fostering.
You are going to be fostering with us (hopefully) for the next 5, 10, 20+ years, so let’s get to know each other. Get used to our lingo, phrases, who’s who and how it all works.
And what better than being trained and assessed by the people you are going to be working directly with. We know how we do things, we know how our support works and we know how things work around here, with local services and local schools. We are real people, familiar with the local area, because we live here too.
We also know the children that you might be caring for; their unique stories and needs. As we get to know you, we might even have a child in mind, who you could help.
“getting to know people is important” foster carer
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Why do you want to foster? What’s your motivation?
Looking for a job, an income? Wanting to start a family of your own? Looking for company in a quiet house?
Or do you have something to offer a child; time, love and attention. Is your motivation to foster enough to get you through the more difficult days? Is fostering the right path for you and your family?
“6 months gives more time to digest all the information and be able to make sure it's the right pathway” foster carer
The checks and references
Becoming a foster carer is much more than a tick box exercise. Although it is important to check your criminal record, health, referees, previous address history and involvement with social services. These checks involve contacting other services and waiting for their reply. We will ask opinions from people who know you well, from all different angles ; your family, friends, boss, ex, until we get a full picture.
‘Skills to Foster’ Preparation training
Our fostering preparation training course introduces 6 important topics about looking after our children.
- Accepting children for who they are, realizing that all children are different and might be at different stages of development to their peers. What do children really need?
- Everyone has an identity, things that are important to them and what makes you, “you”. Can you accept a child into your family that is different to you, and can you embrace that difference? Think about how a child feels in foster care.
- When you care for a child, you are part of a big team involved in that child’s life. From their parents, siblings, grandparents, social worker, teacher, health care worker. Can you help a child to keep connected to their family? Can you communicate important information and keep information confidential?
- Can you help a scared child feel safe? This isn’t going to happen overnight. We will teach you some theory to help a child feel like they belong. It also important to recognize what winds you up and recognize your own triggers. We introduce examples of some of the behaviors that might be common in the children we look after. We discuss how to provide rules, boundaries, consequences for a child.
- When you are caring for other people’s children, there are rules about what you can and can’t do, compared to your own children. We discuss how you can integrate that into family life. We discuss the risk of a child saying that you did something and how children need to be listened to, ensuring that their experience of care is a good one.
- Letting children go is one of the big challenges of fostering and the reason that many people talk themselves out of it. We discuss why a child might move on and the importance of making those moves as smooth and positive as possible for children.
Already work with children? Ok, so you might already understand these topics through your job as a teacher or social worker, great! Then we need to discuss the difference between the 9-5 and doing this in your own home.
“I think it depends on how much someone already knows about fostering.” Foster carer
When does the 6 month clock start ticking?
Once we’ve had our first chats, checked that you’ve got the basic criteria (ie. A spare room etc) and we’ve trained you up and completed our basic checks - that’s when we accept your application and start your “assessment”. If you want to stop the process there, that’s fine. We will usually identify how ready you are during our initial chats and training.
“It’s a whole lifetime change and needs careful consideration” foster carer
Knowing what to ask
Fostering and social care might be a completely new subject to everything you’ve ever done before in your life and work. The 6 month fostering assessment gives you opportunities to think of questions you want to ask the assessor, as you go, that you may not have thought about at the start.
“Newbies don't know what to ask at pre-approval!” foster carer
We will be looking to make 6-10 appointments with you to complete our fostering assessment. These are at least a couple of hours each, ideally a morning or afternoon. These can be weekly appointments. This gives you time between each appointment to digest what’s been discussed. Fitting these appointments in with life, work, holidays, not feeling well, (not just you, but our assessor too) that’s real life, that’s the stuff we are good at, but it can stretch the process out longer.
Your views, attitudes and comfort zone?
What makes your family unique? What are your beliefs, routines and experience?
How would you feel…
How would you deal with….
We will get a good idea of what you cope can and can’t cope with. What you know, and don’t know yet.
“The assessment process will identify areas for further development.” Social worker
It gets a bit emotional
The assessment is sometimes described as ‘free therapy’. How has your childhood and life experience shaped you as a person? What kind of person are you? What kind of parent will you be?
The assessment is in-depth. We ask about your childhood, important events and people in your life you’ve loved and lost. These are emotional subjects. Reflection is important for foster carers, especially about your own childhood. This can take time or bring up memories.
“it gives them time to reflect on their own qualities and gives them time to discuss and reflect on the information they get from assessment visits to make sure it’s right for them” Social worker
How stable is your family life?
Life will sometimes throw you a curve ball out of the blue, we know that. But if in general life is pretty stable, almost boring, then we know that your life is going to be stable enough to bring a new challenge into, a challenge like fostering.
We need to be fairly certain that there isn’t going to be a big change in your life (like pregnancy, bankruptcy….) that means a foster child will have to move on. Over the 6 months, if nothing really changes in your life and you are still motivated to foster, that is a pretty good indicator and evidence that you are committed to doing this.
“It shows commitment from both the carers and the authority – investing in time to get everything right and accurate. Keeping fostering relevant for them for 6-9 months to make sure they really want to do it.” Social worker
What if I need a break? Or change my mind.
Imagine if we quickly rushed you in to this, a child arrives and then…..you change your mind. What’s the worst that could happen? Possibly causing more damage to a child who has already experienced loss and rejection. We don’t want that.
We understand when people need to take a pause. Just because the clock is ticking doesn’t mean we can’t be flexible. If you request a break in your assessment that’s ok, we can pick things back up again when you are ready.
“I think you need time to take everything in and not rush into something that may not be for them.” Foster carer
The whole family
Is everyone keen to foster, or going along with the idea just to please you? Talking with your own children or other family members at various times throughout the 6 month assessment makes sure that everyone will welcome a child into your family. We also prepare everyone in the family for the more difficult times.
“Considering the impact is also important and their expectations.” Social worker
Matching you with a child you can help
It can take time to find out what kind of fostering would suit your family best. We want your fostering future to be a success, so we take time and care to match you with the right child for you and your family. We make careful decisions about who should foster each child, with their best interests at heart. Better matches will help create more sustainable and happy placements for the child, for you and your family. The knowledge and relationship we build up in the assessment helps us to get that match right.
We are not a business, we care
Local authority social workers are not paid on commission. We are not answerable to shareholders and sales targets. We are not a business. We build futures, not profits. Our team is entirely focused on working with foster carers to build better futures for local children; it’s what we’re trained to do and driven to achieve. We care about the children under our responsibility, and the foster carers who look after them. That means we take our time, to make sure we get it right.
Preparing you for every eventuality
If we rush the assessment, it could be that you experience things when you are actually fostering that you weren’t made aware of, or wasn’t explained or explored enough with you beforehand. We will do our best to prepare you for every eventuality. This might mean sharing a few scare stories, but we try to balance these with the lovely ones too.
It could be that you already have knowledge of the child that you are going to be caring for (like a family member and a kinship carer for example) but it most cases foster carers could be caring for ANY child or lots of different children.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do but can be difficult at times. I think it’s important to have time to learn about the level of commitment you need to give, ask all your questions and get to know the team” foster carer
We need to be sure
We are proud of our local authority foster carers and the excellent work that they do caring for children. We are trusting them with our children. We need to be as sure, as we possibly can be, that everyone being approved, with our support, will be a good foster carer.
“If you look at the important things in life not to rush, this is one of them” Social worker
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Our fostering journey - Step by step - Part One