Real Q&A’s for those curious about fostering
Real Q&A’s for those curious about fostering
Answers to questions and perceived barriers to working with and caring for looked after children at home.
Asked by the public answered by the experts.
Sarah Anderson, Founder, FosterWiki
Introduction to fostering
You’ve seen the adverts, you’ve heard about the desperate need for foster carers, and you are indeed curious and interested, but lots of things hold you back.
Here at FosterWiki, we want to revolutionise foster care in the UK, we want to dispel the myth that fostering is somehow all you need is a ‘spare room’ and raise standards and outcomes across the board for our looked-after children and those who care for them.
Fostering is a complex, nuanced and skilled undertaking, it is also can be life-changing, enriching and rewarding for those who chose this career path. The old image of the foster carer is outdated and misleading, we are now a professionalised workforce whose role is underpinned by national minimum standards and statutory legislation.
We are part of an integral team around the child or young person, we are not their ‘parents’, although parenting is a part of our role.
Being a modern foster carer is so much more than nurturing a child in a family environment, although it is of course centred around this, being a skilled qualified practitioner and loving and nurturing a child are not mutually exclusive, in fact, quite the opposite, it enhances a role that requires us to be more than a ‘spare room’ and be equipped to work with and look after our children and young people, helping to change their lives and outcomes.
Who can foster?
I think most of us know by now there are very few barriers to becoming a foster carer. It can be couples, single, same-sex, disabled, old, young and anywhere in-between, working, not working, with other things like old police records, mental health issues, health conditions, and previous financial issues being considered.
The best thing to do if you have a query is to drop us a line at [email protected] for an informal and completely confidential chat and we can talk you through it and refer you to a suitable agency or authority, we are impartial and do not take a commission.
You don’t have to have specific qualifications or education to foster, however, you really do need to be up for some serious education and a hunger to continually learn, there is not a day that goes by as a foster carer that you don’t learn something new!
There are certain basics that we recommend no one starts without, such as an introduction to trauma-informed care, not just for the children but for you, and our advice is to know everything you possibly can about your role.
FosterWiki is a great place to start, it has a huge volume of information, guidance and help from experts, and some fantastic free accredited courses and there are some improvements in foster carers’ education in the pipeline.
- So you want to foster
- Foster carers tool kit
- DN Colleges
- Counselling skills course
- Behaviour that challenges
“I’ve never considered myself as a foster carer, it doesn’t sound like a real job, it sounds like volunteering, and although I think people who do it are amazing I just can’t see myself as a foster carer.”
This is because the title ‘foster carer’ has an outdated narrative surrounding it and because traditionally everyone is a little allergic to calling it a ‘job’ or ‘career’ or to talk about money or education. This is because people somehow feel that you won’t be loving and nurturing a child or young person if you are also skilled, qualified and paid, but as we emphasise before these things are not mutually exclusive.
Those of us who actually work with looked-after children in our home setting know the inside reality of the role, and it is different from public perception. It has become increasingly professionalised in recent years as safeguarding and child protection have facilitated a raft of statutory legislation and national minimum standards underpinning our role.
Children entering care now carry significantly more trauma and require trauma-informed responses and practice.
Foster carers (in the best fostering services) can be earning £60k+ net per annum, have accountants, and other professional and transferable qualifications and work as an integral part of the team around the child, they complete CPD and have a career progression.
“I’m not sure I could afford to do it, I’ve heard you don’t really get paid?”
Money matters and pay is extremely important in today’s modern socioeconomic climate with the professionalisation of the role of the foster carer, money requires a different response.
Of course, wanting to foster should be driven by first and foremost a desire to have a career working with, caring for and supporting looked after children in the home setting, but as foster carers, we do now speak about money, as not only do we get paid an allowance for each child but rightly also get paid a fee in recognition for our work.
It is part of being valued and respected for the contribution we make to the children and society and the work we do for fostering services.
When making enquires to different fostering services make sure you ask and fully understand the providers’ fees and allowances, benefits, respite/holiday/birthday/festival payments, and how much is paid in milage and on what milage, sometimes as carers we can do hundreds of miles a week.
Fees and allowances can vary hugely, you can also be paid higher skills fees for your work as you acquire more skills, qualifications and experience.
You might earn somewhere around £22 – £25 per annum (net, tax-free) at the very start of your fostering career for one child, £44 – £50 for two and so forth (as you get paid the sum for each child in placement). An experienced level 3 carer who looks after two teenagers could earn £65k per annum. You do not get paid when you do not have a child in your home, although some fostering services do pay a retainer fee.
The tax allowances for fostering are very generous, so even at the higher levels there is little tax to pay. As a foster carer, you are classed as self-employed and need to be registered with HMRC.
Here is a comprehensive guidance on money matters:
“I’ll get too attached, I could never give them back.”
Fostering is often misconstrued, and sometimes, when you see the rosy-tinted fostering recruitment adverts we can hardly be to blame for thinking that little orphan Annie turns up on the doorstep with ringlets and a pink suitcase and we all live happily ever after.
However in reality it’s not quite like that. We care for other people’s children while, for whatever reason, they are unable to do so themselves. Reunification with the birth family should be the primary aim when a child enters care, and as a foster carer, you learn about your role, and how part of that is supporting and promoting the relationship with the child’s birth parents, and where appropriate reunifying them.
It’s not always appropriate for children to return home, then there will be a plan for more permanence with you.
Will you be sad when children and young people leave you? Yes, of course, most of the time, but our role fully helps us understand this.
However, the most important thing to focus on here, is that you will, for however long, have an opportunity to have a huge and positive impact on a child’s life which will stay with them forever.
“I’ve heard a lot of bad things about foster children, how will I cope?”
You get two types of press, media and advertising with fostering. On TV programmes the villain has often ‘been through the foster care system’ and foster carers are portrayed as uncaring villains themselves, or ‘only doing it for the money’. Horror stories reach the media about our young people, and rumours abound regarding the horrors of caring for teenagers.
On the other end of the scale, you get what we call the ‘fluffy bunny unicorn’ (yes I know very technical term) stuff, the gardens full of roses, cute little smiling children everywhere, you’re all having fun-filled family days out and copious amounts of picnics, hugs and cuddles and you all live happily ever after.
Well, needless to say, neither is right or typical, as in so much about the misconstrued narrative around fostering.
The real truth is that our role as foster carers is to work with some of the most traumatised children in society, many suffering from many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and attachment issues.
All of this has a profound effect on their mental health and yes, sometimes on their behaviour, some displayed outwardly and some directed inwardly.
The key is education in trauma-informed care and again to comprehensively understand your role.
You will learn to understand that with all our children their behaviours are just a symptom of the way they feel, the trauma they carry, the attachment issue they have and the adversity they have suffered.
Something always underlies the behaviour, and once you understand that, understand yourselves, and learn about co-regulation and self-regulation and therapeutic care and responses, their ‘behaviour’ will look like something very different to you.
The truth is when you build a trusting relationship with a very traumatised child and see their outcomes change for the better it is the most rewarding thing on earth, learning how to do that is the key.
- Therapeutic foundations
- Maintaining connections
- What is Reunification
- Reunification and the role of the Foster Carer
“I’m worried I won’t love them.”
This is another misconception in foster care, you will not fall in love with every child from day one, love is not tangible, it is not prescriptive, it can not be ordered, it is not bought nor can be written into a care plan.
Love is something that happens naturally and grows.
What’s more, announcing your ‘love’ for a child may not be appropriate for the child itself, for many complex reasons. Children in care will often say they just wanted to be loved, and indeed that is a basic instinctual requirement, however often when they feel unloved this will stem from feeling rejected and unloved by birth parents.
Replace the word ‘love’ in this context with nurture, I am sure you won’t be worried you won’t nurture them, as you know you will do that.
Nurture is all about embracing warmth, kindness, care and acceptance, nurture is what a child needs and love can grow.
- Therapeutic foundations
- FosterWiki’s 5 minute to What is Therapeutic Care(YouTube video)
- Foster carers mental health
- 5 Top Tips for self-care and mental health and they’re not what you think (YouTube video)
“I’d like to do it but don’t like the idea of working with social services, you hear so much negative stuff.”
When you’re a foster carer you can choose to work directly for a local authority, or work for a private agency, either way, you will have lots of interaction with children’s social services in your role.
Working with them does not have to be difficult, although it might be frustrating at times. The key is in the approach to have to your own work, the professional side of your role and something you make sure you are fully equipped for.
The fostering service you work for will probably not prepare you for all of this, so our advice is to educate yourselves. If you are up to speed on the National Minimum Standards (NMS) and statutory legislation that underpins not only our work but those who work in children’s services you will be perceived in a more professional light.
Understanding everything about our role is fundamental to our professionalism. It’s the same regarding communication, on the phone or by email or in teams meetings and working with the teams around you.
If you are professional, confident and fully informed you will have a much better experience working with children’s services, local authorities and agencies.
“How can I work with their parents, won’t it be hard when I know what they’ve done.”
This is another misconception. Yes, it can be hard hearing about what’s happened to a child or young person, but we don’t ‘demonise’ their parents for it.
As we learn and become trauma aware and informed we understand that often those parents have had similar childhoods, or trauma of their own that has prevented them from good enough parenting, maybe have led them to substance abuse and neglect of themselves.
Also, they have not always been abusive, there are lots of reasons a child may come into care, and we care for them whilst their own parents, for whatever reason, are unable to do so.
We also learn how to develop professional working relationships with the parents of our looked-after children to support and promote family ties, it is an integral part of our role.
Again it is down to our professionalism when you understand the things that underpin working with looked-after children in your own home, and what it really entails you will understand, be effective, successful and find it infinitely rewarding.
“I’m very worried about allegations.”
Allegations come part and parcel of anyone working in the children’s social care sector.
Traditionally allegations in the foster care sector have made carers vulnerable. However, things are changing at a pace now as campaigners and the foster carer’s own union have been forging change.
2021 saw the inauguration of the National Union of Professional Foster Carers (NUPFC), the dedicated government-approved union for foster carers. It’s run and organised by experts in the field provides foster carers with a defence, casework, inspects reports, evidence and facts and a union representative attends panel meetings.
As with everything else, knowledge is power, knowing your role in depth, understanding the importance of reporting and recording, knowing what you can and can’t do in your capacity as a foster carer, ensuring good communication being professional in all your interactions with services, social workers, agencies, schools and birth parents, making sure you have the right delegated authority, a grounding in safeguarding and most importantly a robust understanding and continued learning of trauma-informed and therapeutically led care, all will help you minimise the occurrence of allegations.
- What is an Allegation?
- 10 Top Allegation Tips You Need to Know
- Help, I have had an allegation made against me
- Members Area -Allegation help
- NUPFC The National Union of Professional Foster Carers
- Say So – Creating a Positive Workplace
“Can I still continue with my other work?”
We say ‘other’ jobs as we consider foster care a job as well as a vocational lifestyle.
The answer is yes, but it will depend on many factors like the age and situation of the children or young people you are caring for. It will also depend on if you are single or a couple, often in a couple one person will have another job and one will be a full-time foster carer, sometimes both work, or maybe they work from home, or have their own business. 40% of carers foster full-time.
If you have babies then at least one person will need to be with them full-time, if you have teenagers they may be NEET (not in education, employment or training) again someone will usually need to be a full-time foster carer. In partnerships, this can often mean there is a main carer and a secondary carer, who usually has another full-time job.
“What kind of help and support will I get in my role?”
The answer is yes you will get help and support, but as with any other organisation you work for how much and the quality of it varies.
This again is where your homework and research come in, and the best people to ask are the workforce themselves as every agency or council you ring will of course assure you what they offer is excellent.
So don’t only speak to agencies or local authorities, research them and try to speak to people who work for them.
Most agencies and authorities will tell you about the support they provide, generically this will be your own social worker (separate from the child’s social worker) with whom you have a supervision session every 6 weeks, this generally lasts about an hour and is part of the statutory legislation.
Another support is things like support groups, with other carers, hub-type systems where you are part of a hive/hub with a group of other carers, there may be buddy and mentor schemes.
The support you will need will also be about the team around the child supporting you and your children and young people, being able to access services for them, education, medical and mental health support, and support in contact/family time.
You will have your own support networks (who will be checked if they are going to have the children) and will often develop more through your fostering colleagues, who you might meet at support groups, training, coffee mornings and word of mouth.
Connecting up with other foster carers is great, as they are the people who genuinely know what you are going through, and often when you are new to fostering you rely on others’ experience.
There are some good social media private groups where you can (keeping confidentiality in mind) talk about things with other carers, such as this one ‘The Foster Carer’s Forum’ run by our FosterWiki founder, Sarah Anderson.
“Will I get any breaks or holidays?”
Yes, all good providers should be giving foster carers a minimum of 2 weeks of respite a year, some more. Every fostering setting and every child is unique, so how your breaks work will depend on lots of factors.
However having a break is crucial, not just for you but for those who you care for, you can not provide the best care if you feel burnt out. See our foster carer’s mental health page below for more information on the importance of breaks and holidays.
Depending on the type of children or young people you foster you will normally take them on a holiday as well, for which you receive an allowance for, this is usually 2 x the child’s weekly allowance per year.
Good services will recognise the importance of carer respite and this is something to discuss with them before you sign up to them.
“I have my own children, how will that work, will it affect them.”
There are lots of things to consider when you have your own children or ‘birth’ children as they are called in the sector.
You will work with your chosen fostering service on what you think the best match will be for your family taking into consideration your own children and family’s situation.
You may decide for instance that you want to foster children younger than your own, or that you don’t mind what age the foster children are.
None of these things is foolproof and certainly, the dynamics of the household will change with the arrival of a foster child/ren it’s good to have a proper plan on how you are going to make sure your own children feel seen and heard.
However, there are lots of pluses for birth children too, lots. The children of foster carers are an integral part of the fostering family, their contribution and impact are immeasurable.
We hear of the most extraordinary birth children and what they have contributed to the foster children in their homes, and whilst it can be challenging they can also gain huge benefits and experiences from being part of a fostering family.
‘Matching’ as it’s called, is important, so when you are talking to prospective fostering providers ask them about their matching policies. As you get more experienced you may get more flexible, but at the beginning, you do need the best possible match, not just for you but for the child or young person coming into your home and for your own children too.
You’ll find lots of help, advice and real-life experiences on the FosterWiki Birth Children page:
“How do I start, how long does it take, what’s the process?”
Firstly do lots of research, you will find this all on fosterwiki.com so that you understand the role you are about to undertake, this is not to put you off but to ensure you are fully informed.
Read “So you want to become a foster carer” for advice, guidance and tips, which will show you how to choose your agency or local authority and what to consider and questions to ask. Shop around, there is a lot to consider, speak to as many as you can and speak FosterWiki with any questions or if you want to speak to someone.
This is a big commitment and as with any other sector, working for the right people is key. To become a foster carer you go through an assessment process, called the Form F Assessment.
You will be assigned your own assessing social worker, who will carry out the assessment on you, your family and your home, they will require personal and work references and speak to immediate family and friends.
You will get a DBS done and they will speak to you about your own history, will speak to your children and you will have a medical, during this time you normally do a 3-day course called ‘Skills to Foster’.
Try training to get as much training as possible is key, especially trauma-informed training.
After that, you will be referred to the ‘Panel’ which is usually around 6-10 people who receive your completed Form F assessment, you go to the meeting and they approve you (or not), and the recommendation then goes to someone called the Agency Decision Maker and who makes the final decision.
You will then sign a Fostering Agreement (your contract) and then you are then ready to start fostering!
- DN Colleges Group Offer Free Courses
- So You Want to…be a Foster Carer
- New Foster Carers Toolkit
- Prospective Foster Carer Report (Form F)
- Prospective Foster Carer Report (Form F) Wales
- Prospective Foster Carer Report (Form F)(Scotland) (PAR-S)
- The fostering Agreement
Why not speak to the real experts at FosterWiki? Our expertise is grounded in experience.
With us, you can have a completely independent and confidential chat, about all the genuine pros and cons and what type of agency or local authority would suit you best.
FosterWiki is impartial and takes no commission from LAs or Agencies.
Contact: [email protected]
Or speak directly to one of our partner agencies or local authorities, more coming soon.
We only recommend the best and we don’t take a commission.
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.
Please find our help and support page here.
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/