Cutting-edge Education for Modern Foster Carers

  • FosterWiki
  • Author:Carolyn Moody MBE
  • Published:15 April 2024
  • Country: United Kingdom

A guide to cutting-edge education for modern foster carers

A guide to cutting-edge education for modern foster carers

Addressing the contemporary needs of children in care

Introduction to Foster Carer’s Education

There are issues that permeate repeatedly through care reviews, reports, surveys and research, that foster carers need improved education and training, they need more access to peer support, they want to be more valued, professionally recognised and to be seen as an equal member of the team around the child.

Anyone can apply to become a foster carer, but the process involves thorough screening, training, and assessment to ensure they can provide a safe and supportive environment for children in need.

Once approved, the next steps typically involve matching the new foster carer with a suitable child based on their preferences, skills, and the needs of the child. After a child is placed in their care, they will work closely with social workers, attend training sessions, and provide ongoing support to the child to ensure their well-being and development.

Fostering involves nurturing and championing a child, but it doesn’t entail the same level of parental responsibility as biological or adoptive parenting. While foster carers provide essential care and support, they typically don’t have the legal Parental Responsibility (PR) of being a parent and consequently are caring for that child under rules, regulations and plans dictated by others, this is a major factor in foster care and whilst parenting is a part of a foster carers role they are not parents.

Foster Carer’s Education: A continuous journey of learning

During and after completing the rigorous screening and assessment process, prioritising quality education for foster carers is essential, getting good education should be the top priority. This education helps them learn the skills they need to support a child and avoid problems.

It’s about making sure they’re ready and not left struggling when they start their fostering journey and are ready to meet the child’s needs from day one, this is non negotiable and fundamental to building stable loving fostering homes delivering the outcomes our children and young people deserve.

Is foster carer’s education valued or merely a box-ticking exercise for services?

To effectively implement high quality foster care, including trauma-informed care, it’s essential to chose and education that equips foster carers with real-life skills and strategies, an education should focus on building empathy, understanding the impact of trauma on children, developing positive coping mechanisms, and establishing healthy boundaries.

It should also emphasise ongoing support and collaboration with professionals to address the unique needs of each child.

Education is key for foster carers from before their fostering journey begins because they will be caring for children with diverse needs, including special needs, disabilities, and very often behaviours that challenge.

Carers must be equipped to handle teenagers, babies, and children, some with high physical and mental health needs. They need skills in communication, active listening, understanding neglect and attachment issues.

Quality education helps prevent placement breakdown by preparing carers to provide appropriate care and support to children with complex needs, ensuring their well-being and stability in the foster care system.

The multifaceted role of foster carers

When contemplating the responsibility of caring for one of the most traumatised children in the country, it necessitates a comprehensive set of skills, qualifications, trauma-informed education, understanding of safeguarding and child protection in all it’s complexities, legal frameworks, adherence to standards, rigorous reporting, meticulous record-keeping, and stringent supervision to ensure optimal outcomes.

Ensuring qualification for every foster carer from the outset

The reductive nature of foster care recruitment marketing, the suggestions that ‘all you need is a spare room’ belies the complexity of needs foster carers are required to meet, and probably accounts for the fact that 1 in 3 foster carers are gone in 12 months or so.

Foster carers need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to address the complex nuances of caring for a child who is not yours, one that may eventually return home or move on, it can be both rewarding and challenging, a mix of love, attachment and uncertainty as you navigate complex emotions and provide care and support to the child while also preparing for the possibility of saying goodbye. It requires resilience, empathy, and a commitment to the child’s well-being, regardless of the outcome, however it also requires knowledge and education.

Foster Carer’s also need to be fully educated in their role in a complex system, understanding such things as parental responsibility, their responsibilities to meeting National Minimum Standards and working with the statutory legislation and policy frameworks.

The Government’s latest fostering policy is called ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ and whilst we don’t argue at how fundamental this is to caring for our children and young people, we believe it to be reductive and misleading at times.

you need the prerequisite understanding in trauma and the ability to work with children within the framework of children’s services, and in order to build a relationship with a child you need to first understand what underpins their emotional world, their behaviour and understand expressions of trauma.

It must also be noted that effective informed education for foster carers is not just best, but should be a prerequisite that it’s developed, written and delivered by those who’s experience is grounded in front line practice, in other words those who have actually done the job.

Personal Development Plan for every foster carer

A Personal Development Plan (PDP) in foster care is vital for carers as it acts as a roadmap for their growth and improvement in providing support to vulnerable children. By setting individualised goals and objectives, carers can focus their training efforts on areas that directly benefit the children they care for.

Foster carers are no different from anyone else else in children’s services, their ongoing education and personal development is key to improvement, and PDP can identify any gaps in knowledge, or additional education for meeting the needs of more complex children or young people.

Continual personal development results in better outcomes for the children entrusted to their care, and helps create confident professional foster carers.
Government Training, Support and Development Standards (TSDS) These were introduced by the government in 2007 and apply to all approved foster carers in England.

The TSDs cover the first 12 – 18 months of practice, so in theory carers will have limited experience to draw on at this point.

Most foster carers don’t get to hear about the TSDS until they need to do them, early foster carer education such as the National Foster Carers Qualifications: Foundation Certificate, have a module on the TSDS from day one, this enables them to not only prepare for it and collect evidence as they progress in their fostering journey, but also gives them a minimum standards framework against which their fostering career will be measured and reviewed.

Focus and education around foster carer’s mental health

According to the NHS, one in four people in the UK will encounter mental health challenges every year. Foster carers are not exempt from this statistic and, due to the nature of their responsibilities, often face heightened exposure to risk factors associated with mental health issues.

Recognising, acknowledging, and proactively preventing mental health challenges are of utmost importance. Understanding self-care practices is equally critical as it significantly diminishes the likelihood of experiencing mental health issues such as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Being aware of one’s mental health status and knowing when to take respite or seek help and support is paramount. By attending to their own mental well-being, foster carers can ensure they are equipped to provide optimal care to looked after children and young people.

The significance of practice groups, peer discussion and reflective work Foster carers now want significantly more sophisticated educational opportunities, including practice groups, safe and professional spaces where they can share experience, relate theory to practice and reflect on their learning.

The National Foster Carers Accredited educational pathway includes an integrated group framework and offers a Group Coordinators course as a standard component for providers acquiring qualification licenses. They are run as safe learning spaces to enhance NFCQ education with focus on trauma informed therapeutic care, building confidence, and developing a foster carer community accomplished in all aspects and requirements of the fostering role.

Through practice groups they can leverage the effectiveness of relational and reflective methodologies, develop interpersonal interactions and mutual support to elevate standards, outcomes, and stability within the foster care system.

Foster carers need safe learning environments aimed at enriching their education, emphasising trauma-informed therapeutic care, bolstering confidence, and cultivating a community of proficient foster carers adept in all facets of their fostering responsibilities.

Practice and peer groups can engage in collaborative learning, share expertise, and translate theoretical knowledge into practical application, fostering reflective practice and enhancing self-awareness, where these opportunities have not been available to foster carers before. They help with communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and resilience among participants.

Ultimately for foster carers, interactive work with colleagues will help the growth of confident, reflective, and trauma-informed foster carers, leading to improved placement stability, permanence, and increased retention.

Demonstrating professionalism through Education

It is often hard to break through the barrier of professionalism as a foster carer, to be seen as an equal in the team around the child. The foster carer’s voice is essential in reviews and meetings yet seldom heard due to the normalised narrative of services that foster carers ‘are not professionals’ so should be ‘seen but not heard.’

This is a narrative that must be challenged if we are to ensure the best outcomes for children, as foster carers deliver care 24/7 they are often the professionals that know the children best.

Maintaining professionalism as a foster carer is important because it reflects positively on the children they foster and the foster care system, building trust and ensuring positive outcomes for all involved.

Demonstrating professionalism through accredited qualifications in foster care significantly contributes to retention rates. Government reviews, foster carer surveys, and research consistently highlight the desire for that foster carers have to be recognised as professionals, a sentiment frequently expressed but rarely fulfilled.

The National Foster Carers Qualifications (NFCQ)

The National Foster Carers Qualifications recognise the skills and quality practice carers bring to fostering, and want to reward them with educational opportunities worthy of their role. The NFCQ’s recognise and value one of the most crucial workforces in the country.

These accredited qualifications are a brand new and ground-breaking approach to foster carer education, the very first national qualification in foster care they cover essential areas such as trauma, child development, communication skills, managing allegations, and other important issues discussed.

By joining the NFCQ Accredited Pathway foster carers join a new cohort of Accredited Foster Carers, and elevate their status by becoming more professionally recognised.

They gain fully accredited certification from iTol, an internationally recognised elite accreditation body that aligns closely with the foster care sector, a practical 24/7 front-line role in children’s services, not just an academic accreditation but one that reflects the foster carer’s role and specialisms within an industry context.

The NFCQ education pathway is meticulously grounded in the National Minimum Fostering Standards, Fostering Regulations, and all statutory legislation pertinent to the fostering framework. In terms of quality assurance, assessment, and adherence to national standards, NFCQ has earned accreditation from ITOL, serving as a hallmark of quality that caters to professionals and providers alike.

There are NFCQ groups that are designed to leverage relational and reflective practices, interpersonal interactions, and mutual support to enhance standards, outcomes, and stability for foster carers, providers, and the children under their care. The group work provide ample opportunity for engagement in collaborative and reflective spaces, bridging theory to practice.

These groups are overseen by NFCQ Group Coordinators, ensuring proficiency through requisite qualifications such as the NFCQ Foundation Qualification and the NFCQ Group Coordinator’s Course.

Assessment of the Foundation Qualification entails progressive learning and reflection throughout the course, culminating in a comprehensive test assessment upon completion. The intermediate and advanced levels, currently in production, will further elevate the learning experience, incorporating advanced requirements and the submission of written work assessed by qualified iTol registered assessors.

The NFCQ ensures foster carers are well-prepared from day one by providing a comprehensive education that instils confidence, enabling carers to understand children’s behaviours, their needs and they system that surrounds them. This creates supportive skilled environments and nurturing families where children feel valued and heard, producing positive outcomes and brighter futures.

For more information on the NFCQ click here

Fosterwiki: A modern platform designed to educate, inform and empower your fostering career

  • A ground-breaking resource, serving as the first knowledge bank exclusively for foster carers. Underpinned by NMS and statutory regulation, whilst written in an accessible engaging way offering insights from front line practice, offering an instant free access to a wealth of information, developed by those who’s expertise is grounded in practice.
  • A platform for foster carers voices to be heard, fostering a community of support and shared learning.
  • FosterWiki enhances awareness, promotes professionalism, trust and proper handling of situations within foster care, safeguarding everyone involved.

Further resources and links:

* Robert Spencer is a pseudonym to protect anonymity

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