Preparing for your foster child or young person
Preparing for your first foster child / young person
A guide for new and existing foster carers preparing to welcome a foster child / young person into the family home.
Sarah Anderson, Founder FosterWiki
Introduction to Preparing for your foster child
The intention of this page is to prepare carers in all ways for their first foster child / young person, which can form the foundations of a long and successful fostering journey.
Preparing for your first foster child / young person goes way beyond the practicalities of getting bedrooms ready or stocking up freezers.
The government’s latest annual fostering statistics state that 30% of newly approved foster carers are deregistered within two years of their approval. We believe that many of these might not have happened had they been more informed, educated, and realistically prepared, not just in working with looked after children but also in their professional role as foster carers.
When you get the call
We never forget the excitement of that first call. We don’t want to dampen that excitement, and as experts grounded in practice the FosterWiki team is with you all the way, but have also learned many things the hard way and want to impart the kind of knowledge to you they wished they had known.
Being prepared to foster is crucial and nothing substitutes hearing it from those who already carry out the role, those who know how it actually works, what that first foster child / young person feels like, and what they wish they had known or done at the time.
What do the National Minimum Fostering Standards say?
The National Minimum Standards (the legislation that underpins our and our providers’ role) state that our provider must make sure that:
Information is critical to success
Do not be afraid to request all the information you need, do not skip this bit and hope for the best, in the long run, it benefits no one, least of all the children.
Don’t feel pressurised into anything you are not comfortable with, again in the long term this will benefit no one.
What information do you need?
- Ask for as much information on the child or young person as possible, and request the referral document.
- What legal status is the child being placed under, ie Section 20, Full Care Order, etc?
- What are the plans for this child, permanence, short-term, emergency, reunification, adoption, kinship?
- What is the medical and mental health status of the child, including diagnoses?
- Where are they at school/college, how are they doing educationally, and do they have any specific educational needs?
- What medical appointments do they have, medication, any allergies, or specific medical needs?
- Does the child display any behaviours that may affect safety in and to others in the family home?
- What are the contact/family time/sibling contact schedules, what do they expect you to do, where are they, and who is supervising?
- How long has the child been in care, and how many placements have they had?
- Are there any issues around drugs, alcohol, CSE, trafficking, gangs, or county lines?
- Has the child or young person made previous allegations?
- If you have pets are there any issues around this?
Information is critical for matching the best placement to your family, this is also crucial to the child’s well-being and giving the child the best chance of success.
As you become more experienced you may find you can extend beyond your matching perimeters, but for your first child, the best match possible is crucial.
“The responsible authority has information and support from the fostering service which it needs to facilitate an appropriate match between the carer and child, capable of meeting the child’s needs and consistent with the wishes and feelings of the child, so maximising the likelihood of a stable placement.
15.1: The fostering service only suggests foster carers to local authorities as a potential match for a child if the foster carer can reasonably be expected to meet the child’s assessed needs and the impact of the placement on existing household members has been considered. Where gaps are identified, the fostering service should work with the responsible authority to ensure the placement plan sets out any additional training, resource or support required.
15.2: Prior to the placement of each child, the foster carer is provided with all the information held by the fostering service that they need to carry out their role effectively. The information is provided in a clear, comprehensive written form and includes the support that will be available to the foster carer. The fostering service follows up with the responsible authority regarding any gaps in the information provided to them on the child or the child’s family, which may hinder the foster carer in providing a safe caring environment that meets the child’s needs and enables them to keep the child, other children in the fostering household and the foster carer him/herself safe.
15.3: Once placed, a child is not removed from a foster carer who is willing and able to continue caring for the child, unless that is in their best interests, taking the child’s current wishes and feelings into account, and decided (other than in an emergency) through the child’s care planning process. If a placement move occurs in an emergency the fostering service informs the responsible authority within one working day.
Here is the FosterWiki page on Matching in Foster Care
Getting the room ready
You may have had the room ready for a while. A cosy neutral bedroom is best, once your child is in placement if it is age-appropriate, many of the FosterWiki team say they take the child out to choose things to personalise their own bedrooms, such as choosing a paint colour, bedding, posters, and accessories, always make sure there is somewhere they can put precious objects and photographs if they have them.
A family book
Many fostering families create a family book, this may be something the child can have before they arrive as well. It can paint a warm, fun, friendly welcoming picture of your family and
reassure them that you are going to take care of them.
It can include a short biography of you, your immediate and extended family, photographs, pets, their bedroom, and things you like to do as a family.
Leave a copy of your family book in the child or young person’s room on arrival as well.
Little things make a big difference
If possible find out in advance what their favourite things are, including foods, routines, activities, toys, things like: do they like a nightlight, door left open/closed, and what they have been used to.
This way you can provide these things on arrival so they can feel more secure, and safe, with familiarity making them feel more at home.
What to have at the ready
Sometimes a referral can happen very quickly so have things ready.
Stock up on the essentials like clean bed linen and towels, toothpaste, and toiletries. Once you get the referral find out how much the young person is coming with, and if it’s not enough find out what age/size they are, and you might also want to do a quick trip to the local supermarket for some basics, like pyjamas, slippers, underwear. Once the child is settled you might then go out so they can choose some of their own clothes, you will often have to get a school uniform, shoes, and PE kits.
A pad and pen if able to write as I find some don’t want to verbalise at first but will jot things down or draw what they want. I also leave them with a little journal of information with who lives in the house and pictures.”
Have a selection of easy-to-eat child-friendly food, to begin with, they will want comfort food, and food they are familiar with, there will be time to introduce them to new and more adventurous foods later. A child may also not be used to sitting around a big table with a family straight away and might find it daunting. Be observant and stay attuned to the child and their needs.
Top up the freezer and fridge with easy-to-prepare meals for the first couple of days, they may not be the healthiest options, but it’s more important for the child to eat and feel relaxed.
Things like chicken nuggets, chips, spaghetti hoops, pizza, and cereal, are a safe bet, you can concentrate on healthy nutrition later.
Have a look at our FosterWiki pages on nutrition in foster care:
- Food and foster children
- Top 10 Tips for food and eating
- Food and Autism
- A Guide to Fostering Babies For baby placements it’s a good idea to read our FosterWiki page on babies to understand all it entails, this will help you with the specific things you need to know and how to prepare for a baby placement.
- Teenagers a Guide to Fostering Adolescents
Our FosterWiki page on teenagers will help you understand what to prepare for and what to be prepared for when fostering adolescents.
- Disabled children
Here is a guide to what to prepare for caring for disabled children 16+
On the day the child arrives
The Administration is crucial, make sure you get as much as you can at the point of placement, or even before, and keep your records from day one.
You will need birth family contact details, school details, a medical card (to register with your own GP) transport details.
Ask for an allowance right away if you are expected to immediately buy things like new clothes, shoes, school uniforms, etc.. many children come with very little and this outlay is expensive, you should not expect to pay out of your own pocket, and these setup costs are over and above the weekly allowance.
Pocket money, allowances, and savings
Find out what the child or young person’s pocket money or allowance is and what the arrangements are for giving it to them (ie cash or into their bank account) Find out if they have a bank account.
If they have been in care and are being moved to you they should come with a savings account that generally you pay into monthly (the usual amount is around £10).
It is the role of the child’s social worker to get the savings to account details or savings book to you. If it’s the first time the child is in the care you will open their bank account (age appropriate) and savings accounts (all), and you will receive instructions and policies to follow on this from your provider.
The Placement Plan
When the child arrives they will have a Placement Plan document. Make sure you get it even though this can be difficult as your main priority will be welcoming the child or young person into your home at the same time, however it’s important to read it as you should also be signing it.
- Details of child/young person.
- Contact information of key people.
- Placement information – for example, the reason for being looked after, previous placements.
- Family plan – for the fostering family, routines, holidays, travel, activities, finances, equipment, etc.
- Information regarding health issues.
- Emotional and behavioural development.
- Unaccompanied asylum seeker.
- Contact/family time.
- Other essential information.
- Information checklist for the carer.
- Signatures of placing social worker and foster carer.
The placing social worker or officer should have the ‘Delegated Authority Tool’ paperwork for you to go through together and both sign, this is crucial as it gives you permission to make the day
to day decisions around things like activities, haircuts, visiting friends, etc.
Maintains connections with former carers
If the child or children are coming from other carers ask if you can speak to them about any insights and to make the child’s transition easier, also find out if its possible, and or appropriate for children to retain contact with previous carers, as lovely as your home and your family may be maintaining these connections is vital.
Check out FosterWiki’s “Maintaining Connection” page.
Checklist for carer
Here is a list of things to ask for, it includes a passport and birth certificate but you may not always get those.
- Copy of referral.
- Copy of chronology.
- Copy of the care plan.
- Medical consent authorisation.
- Delegated authority tool/form.
- Copy of children’s guide (for the child or young person).
- Data protection.
- Birth Certificate.
The child or young person’s first days
There is no real preparation for this, especially not the first child, by the very nature of it being your first one.
However, if you are prepared in all of the above it can lay the foundations for a successful placement. The first days in placement are as unique to the child as they are to you.
This is when your education in trauma-informed therapeutic care will start to become practice, always remember that anyway a child is presenting, behaving and any emotions they are or are
not displaying are all outward expressions of how they feel, what has happened to them in the past, and the trauma they carry.
Don’t expect them to love your home immediately, or be grateful, it is a foreign land to them however nice it is and they are suffering from trauma and loss.
The ‘Honeymoon Period’
Children or young people may be on their very “best behaviour” when they first arrive, experienced carers call this “the honeymoon period”. This is for a myriad of reasons, but be prepared for it to wear off after a few weeks, or even a few months, this is not a bad thing, but it is because the child is feeling comfortable enough to express how they are really feeling.
Having sufficient education in trauma-informed therapeutic care will inform and support your practice, and you will understand the underlying reasons why behaviour may have changed and be
better equipped to engage and support the child or young person in a helpful and empathic way.
Have no expectations and know that it takes time, patience, kindness, love, understanding, and therapeutic care to build a relationship with your new foster child.
Education is key
As we always say at FosterWiki, education, education, education. It’s the key to everything.
Experience is great, but it takes time to build, however, if you have the very best education you can find it will help support you, so you can help and support your children and young people to thrive and create lasting loving environments for foster children.
Here are some great education pages on FosterWiki that will be key in your preparation for your first child:
Free Accredited Courses for foster carers in partnership with DN College Group
Our partnership with DN College Group enables us to bring you free accredited level 2 courses that will enhance your fostering practice.
Nationally recognised NFCE CASHE Accredited courses with leading industry tutors, that deliver flexible distance learning from home to fit in around your fostering commitments, and
count for your CPD (Continued Professional Development).
Courses include “Behaviour that challenges”, “Counselling Skills”, “Understanding Autism”, “Mental Health First Aid” and more.
They are quick and easy to sign up for, fully funded, and free of charge. Click here for more details and links to sign up.
The FosterWiki Members Area
The members’ area has lots of other helpful inside information, help, support, guidance, and newsletters, and as a member, you can email us at any time, in complete confidence, for help,
support and guidance.
We highly recommend that you look at these two short courses in the members’ area..
- Your Role as a Professional – Crucial to you as a foster carer, to understand the legislation that underpins your role, the expectations of you, and of those around you.
- The business side, self-employment, tax, and accounts – It’s good to understand how you are employed and what the expectations are in terms of registering as self-employed, what tax exemptions there are for foster carers, self-assessments, and accountants.
- Allegations – From the foster carers’ perspective – Allegations can happen, again preparation is key, as understanding everything there is to know about them.
Helpful pages on the open FosterWiki
All the pages on FosterWiki will be applicable to you as a foster carer and are all a great source of information, education, and guidance, they are written by experts whose experience is
grounded in practice.
Here are some good ones for new carers:
- Top tips for new carers.
- So you want to be a foster carer.
- Reporting and recording.
- Contact and family time.
- Top 10 Tips for Contact and Family Time.
- A Guide to Fostering Babies
- Teenagers a Guide to Fostering Adolescents.
- Foster carer’s mental health.
- Money Matters a guide to fostering finances.
Make sure you have this in place before you begin your fostering journey. Normally you will be provided with FosterTalk or Fostering Network free by the local authority or agency, they are contracted by them. However, there are other organisations out there, that are independent and impartial that you may not be given information on by your provider, such as the foster carers’ own government-approved and certified union the National Union of Professional Foster Carers..
It is really important to understand the difference between what support looks like for your provider and what it looks like for you as a carer, so make sure you make the right choice for you and that begins with factual, impartial, balanced, and independent information.
Information, Help and Support
Help and support created for foster carers, by foster carers, we are the experts by experience. We have the first foster carers knowledge bank.
Access both the open pages and members area. Both are free to access and footprint-free. The member’s area gives you privileged confidential access to FosterWiki’s experts by experience for advice and guidance. You will also find short courses and guides from the foster carer’s perspective, top tips, allegation help, templates, and the ability to add to FosterWiki. With more content being uploaded regularly.
Please let us know what information or advice pages you would find useful and we will put them in place. https://fosterwiki.com/register/