So You Want to…be a Foster Carer
A short introduction to being a Foster Carer
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. Today’s foster carer is a skilled, qualified professional. You are excepted to attend meetings, prepare reports, keep meticulous records, and liaise with a large team around the child including social workers, education professionals, mental health professionals, doctors, the police, youth teams and more. You are required to register as a self-employed business, pay tax (although there are very generous tax allowances) national insurance, can be subject to disciplinary procedures and have to abide by a plethora of policies and statutory legislation. It is also, more often than not, a full-time job.
As you can see it’s a lot more than a spare room and a big heart.
Does this detract from loving and nurturing a child in a family setting? No of course it doesn’t, not in any way, it enhances it, our children deserve us to be equipped to look after them in more ways than one.
Where do you start?
The first thing we highly recommend is research, research, research. If you are coming into fostering through recommendation or word of mouth, speak to those who are already doing it and have recommended it to you, and as many other carers as you can. Do this in conjunction with thorough research.
If you are new to it all (maybe saw it on the back of a bus or have wanted to do it for ages) then do your research and find a way to reach out to other carers to speak to them, and not just the ones your prospective provider gives you to talk to, you need the good, the bad and the ugly so you can weigh everything up and find what, where, whom and how is the right fostering setting for you.
Local Authority (LA) or Private Agency? (IFA)
Some people are not even aware there is a difference when they first google ‘fostering’ as it is hard to tell the difference if you don’t know what you are looking for. Typically private agencies will come out higher in google as they generally have bigger advertising departments and budgets and local authorities tend to be a bit behind in this department! The best place to look for who they are is in their website name ie: ‘www.sunshinefostering.com’ will be an agency and anything with ‘gov’ in the name will be a local authority, ie: www.hants.gov.uk is Hampshire County Council.
The local authority is in control of taking children into care and placing them in foster families. As a rule, they will place them firstly with their own “in-house” local authority foster carers, and if they have no capacity they will then access placement for them from a private agency. Private agencies can come in a variety of guises, some are private limited for-profit agencies, some are private limited companies registered as non-profits and some are registered as charities.
You will hear the term IFA (Independent Fostering Agency) or IFP (Independent Fostering Provider). In the ‘for profit’ sector you will find that the biggest providers, or investment houses, own a variety of agencies, you’ll not often hear about this, so that’s why its good to get to know the industry you are going to be working for and who you want to work for. CareTech Holdings PLC, Polaris (or Core Assets), and National Fostering Group are all in the top private equity groups that own a variety of private agencies. Again the standard of both fostering provision and the way they treat their carers varies.
Some IFAs will give themselves other titles such as ‘therapeutic agency’, which usually means they will train their foster carers in ‘therapeutic’ fostering models, although the training can vary. Many won’t label themselves ‘therapeutic’ but foster carers can and will foster and train in therapeutic models as well as others, it’s just that some will specify specialising in something. However, on the whole, all do the same thing.
Non-profit or charitable agencies
These operate in the same way as other private agencies but they are registered as a ‘non-profit’ or a charity.
What’s the difference between fostering with a local authority or an independent agency?
There is no set answer here, it varies enormously, there are equally good and bad local authorities and private agencies, and foster carers have different experiences of both. Support for carers and pay and allowances also vary enormously. All fostering providers can set their own rates of pay, training, support etc. However, they are all expected to abide by the same national minimum standards and statutory legislation.
Here are some pros and cons, however they can also be interchangeable, and that’s why we recommend doing as much research as you can.
The local authority has control over the children who are placed into their care, therefore they tend to place the children with their own local authority carers first, and then if there are no in-house carers they will place them outside to private agencies. If you want to foster younger children or babies then you are more likely to get placements working for a local authority, although many agency carers do have younger children, specifically sibling groups.
The pay and support can be lacking. Many local authorities expect their entry-level carers to foster on a child’s allowance alone, which is not enough in today’s socio-economic climate if you are giving up another career or job to concentrate on fostering, very few people in today’s financial climate can survive and look after a child on a child’s allowance alone. However again we reiterate – there are good and bad in all types of providers.
Agencies/IFA’s (including non-profits & charities)
The pay is generally better than many local authorities. Especially in the case of new carers where the local authority’s new carers are often just paid a child’s allowance alone when they start out, and going up the levels, advancing your career, can be challenging. Agencies pay one flat fee per week, inclusive of the child’s allowance, and this can be more depending on the needs of the children you foster. Some agencies will pay more as you become more experienced and take children with higher needs or behavioural issues.
The support is often deemed better, but this is not always the case, and again do your research thoroughly and try to speak to carers in the agency independently.
Agencies rely on the local authority for their placements, so agencies tend to get placements that local authorities have been unable to place with their in-house foster carers, so this can sometimes mean that agencies get the more challenging children and young people with higher needs. This is a generalisation but of course, nothing is ever that simple in fostering, and agency carers successfully foster children of all age groups and needs. Agencies will often tell you they have children of all ages and lots of placements as they are very keen to recruit, so do your research in this area.
What to consider
- Research and preparation are key, use FosterWiki to gather all the information you need, join the member’s area, see Top Tips for new carers and have direct access to FosterWiki foster carer experts.
- Don’t go with the first provider you speak to, their recruitment teams will make them all sound like their great.
Consider what you think will suit your household and family dynamics and the ages of your children.
- Money matters – do not be afraid to talk about money early on, don’t be put off these conversations, whilst it may not be the first question you ask remember that it is important.
- Check if you are going to a private agency (IFA) that they have placements in your preferred age range and have sufficient placements (you don’t want to be empty for months).
- Ofsted – All providers, both local authority and agency will have an Ofsted rating. Ofsted is the inspectors who carry out mandatory inspections of all providers and deliver ratings, anything from inadequate or in special measures right through to outstanding. If your prospective provider is good or outstanding you will know about it as they will advertise it. However, all you need to do is Google it to find out, for instance, you just put into Google ‘sunshine agency Ofsted’ or ‘Hampshire county council Ofsted’ and look at the actual Ofsted website itself (it should come up first or very high up) you can read the latest inspections and interim inspections to find out how they are rated, it will also say if they are improving or what they are required to do to improve. Ofsted ratings are fairly important, but often more important to the local authority or agency than their foster carers! It is also good to remember that foster carers have no meaningful input into Ofsted inspections so it is rarely a measure of the foster carers’ experience. This is something we are campaigning to change as it seems odd to inspect and rate a fostering provider without asking for feedback and input from the workforce that underpins fostering. However, you can glean important information about your provider through Ofsted reports, and as always it’s good to be informed.
How it works
- Identify the local authority or agency (‘the provider’) you want to foster with.
- Speak to them on the phone to make sure you have all your important questions answered before they visit, so as not to waste your time or theirs or be persuaded into anything.
- Your chosen provider comes out for their initial visit, to see you, your family and your home.
- They are the assessment process (also often referred to as ‘The Form F’).
- You will be extensively interviewed as will your children, partners, extended family, sometimes ex-partners and references from work.
- You will have a fostering medical.
- You attend a 3-day “Skills to Foster” course.
- You will go to the panel for approval.
- You start fostering.
Money does matter, what you get paid is important, of course, you are not coming into fostering just “for the money” but in today’s socio-economic landscape very few people can afford to do altruistic voluntary work. Sometimes it is difficult to work and be a full-time foster carer for many reasons, mostly because few workplaces allow the flexibility for the time you will need off for the children, the meetings, the training, and the unpredictable nature of fostering.
Also do your research on how your employment works, as a foster carer you are classed as ‘self-employed’ so if you don’t have a placement you don’t get paid. If you are leaving a full-time job or reducing hours to dedicate yourself to fostering then you need to make sure the finances are in place, we all have to pay the bills!
The ‘self-employed’ status of foster carers is currently and successfully being challenged in the courts, see the FosterWiki article on the rights of foster carers and the details of the latest landmark ruling (NUPFC v Certification Officer) and why it is so important. Few in fostering are that financially independent, for the majority of foster carers pay is essential.
Never be afraid to talk about money, it’s important. It is important to acknowledge that many people enquiring about fostering are giving up or downsizing an existing career to dedicate themselves to fostering, so ‘ How much does it pay?’ is an important question. This isn’t because they are doing it for the money, but because like all of us
they have bills to pay.
So what does it pay? This is a hard one to answer because it can range between £130 a week up to £750 a week per child or young person in placement, and there is no standard answer to what that depends on. So do your research and ask the experts (see below in section Help and support). You can contact experts at FosterWiki through the free member’s area, your conversation will be confidential and you will talk to experienced foster carers.
What do other carers say?
It is really important to hear what a diverse selection of experienced foster carers has to say. We asked carers to tell us their ‘why’ and this is what they said:
“Initially I came into it naively, because I wanted to make a difference to a child in desperate need. I was thinking along the lines of orphan Annie. I had a son and wanted to be able to “work” from home but still do something meaningful. I loved working with children and young people. Social care was always going to be my calling and this felt like the perfect thing for me to do. After a baptism of fire, my 22-year-old self was too stubborn initially to give up. 17 years on and nearing the end of my fostering carer, I have loved the learning it has bought about regarding myself and the YPs we have cared for. I love seeing the difference and being the difference sometimes. I know we’ve made a real difference to some YP’s lives and are all some of those people still have in terms of “family”.
Why have I carried on? Despite some pretty awful times, a lot of which aren’t necessarily the result of the child or YP, more the system, because it has taught me the patience I never knew I had. The ability to listen and accept that I can’t always fix things and that’s ok.
An in-depth understanding of why our goto responses are what they are and the importance of recognising them and intercepting them if necessary.
The confidence to fight for what is needed and what is right to achieve the best possible outcomes for our YP.
To have a good sense of humour and to know each day passes so quickly. To choose my battles wisely and not sweat the small stuff.
It’s given my children – a lot of the above too, mainly the understanding that not everyone is as fortunate as they are, to be aware of that and to always try and be kind.
They’re also really good at not being reactive. A skill I wish I had had as a youngster! There are times I’ve stuck it because it’s been my job and I’ve felt I’ve needed to and there are times I’ve cried with pride at some of the achievements that have been made. It’s a journey, that’s for sure, one I would go on again. Absolutely!”
Other useful links:
- The Fostering Network
The UK’s largest fostering charity https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk
- National Minimum Standards (NMS) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/192705/NMS_Fostering_Services.pdf
- Fostering services: assessment and approval of foster carers – GOV.UK (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fostering-services-assessment-and-approval-of-foster-carers)
- Care Standards Act 2000 (legislation.gov.uk)
- Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (legislation.gov.uk)
- Children Act 1989 (legislation.gov.uk)
- Children Act 1989: care planning, placement and case review – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Children Act 2004 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 (legislation.gov.uk)
- Data Protection Act 1998 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The Foster Placement (Children) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The Fostering Services (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The Independent Review of Determinations (Adoption and Fostering) (Wales) Regulations 2010 (legislation.gov.uk)
- The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 (legislation.gov.uk)
- What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child? | UNICEF Placement of looked-after children in EU member states – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
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/