Top 10 Tips – For New Foster Carers
FosterWiki Top 10 Tips – For New Foster Carers
This is the kind of information you don’t get when you begin fostering, those recruiting somehow think that if you know the ‘truth’ about fostering you would be put off. We think this is unhelpful and adds to the low retention rate of carers in the first year and placement breakdowns.
It is not about being “put off”, it is about being prepared and knowing what to expect, people who want to care for children are usually far more resilient than the recruiters think and will not be put off, they want to do the job. Being prepared to foster is crucial, you will get a lot of information from your new provider, but nothing substitutes for hearing it from those who already carry out the role who knows how it actually works.
Below are our top ten tips for new carers, and below that there is some feedback from a cross-section of experienced UK foster carers, in their own words.
- When you get a call for your first placement put an inquiry to the fore. Ask as many questions as you can. The National Minimum Standards (the legislation that underpins our and our providers’ role) state that our provider must make sure that:
Each foster carer is aware of all the necessary information available to the fostering service about a child’s circumstances, including any significant recent events, to help the foster carer understand and predict the child’s needs and behaviours and support the child within their household. The fostering service follows up with the responsible authority where all such necessary information has not been provided by the authority” Any experienced carer will tell you that often we do not receive all the information that we need to be properly informed about a child’s background, this can be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the children are placed in an emergency so the information is not available at that time, sometimes, unfortunately, providers omit to share everything for fear of not placing a child, sometimes they will claim it is not appropriate to share things. However, we would argue that no good carer, new or old, will be put off with the complete information, just better informed. If there are behaviours or issues with a child that the foster carer feels will not be manageable within their family setting then withholding this information will just lead to placement breakdowns and further traumatise children and carers.TOP TIP: Getting the full and correct information about a child is paramount.
- Try to make sure the child or young person is a match, or close enough match, to your household and family. The National Minimum Standards say providers must ensure that:
“Children are carefully matched to a foster placement. Foster carers have full information about the child” The reality is, as you can see from number 1, we have to work hard to ensure we get the full information on a child to facilitate good matching. Also, any seasoned carers reading the National Minimum Standards will probably raise an eyebrow or two and many will be able to tell you that although these might be the written ‘standards’ it doesn’t always happen in reality. The reason matching is not the norm is that we have what we call a ‘firefighting’ culture with local authorities, usually due to a lack of available carers and placements. Emergency placements and lack of carers will always be a barrier to matching.TOP TIP – You can stay flexible about matching if you have got all the information on a child, even though it might be outside of the perimeters you had of a good fit for your family, you may decide to accept that child or young person, especially if you have the right support in place.Sometimes the most unlikely matches have worked really well.
- Do not, under any circumstances feel pressurised into anything.
If you do not feel it’s right for you and your family, and especially the child, then say no. There is nothing wrong with a conversation and discussion with your social worker, but do not under any circumstances feel pressured to take a child. Due to the urgent need for placements, they may make you feel guilty, or worse still suggest that you should be taking this child or young person and worry you into thinking your fostering role depends on it. Seek outside advice if you feel your role is under threat for any reason, from your union, a fostering consultant, confidentially speak to the FosterWiki help section in the members’ area, or other independent support organisations. If the placement is wrong it will break down very quickly and traumatise everyone involved, not least the child or young person themselves.
- Ensure you establish yourself as an equal professional in the team around the child right from day one.
You need more than a spare room and a big heart to be a foster carer. Not understanding your role as a professional, including all the knowledge, information and legislation and standards that underpin it can leave you vulnerable and not considered an equal professional in the team around your child. There is a really informative short course in the FosterWiki members area (free to sign up) called ‘Your role as a Professional’. In there you can access all the information to equip you with establishing yourself as an equal professional in the team around your child.
- There will, without a doubt, be days when it feels as though you are the only one who is putting the needs of the child first.
As you become more experienced as a carer you will often feel this. Social workers are under different kinds of pressures and caseloads and often work in underfunded overwhelmed settings. When you are first approved as a foster carer you presume that everyone is putting the child’s needs first, but on the days it doesn’t feel like that you will need to be their voice, their advocate and generally fight their corner every step of the way.
- The ‘Orphan Annie Syndrome’
If you believe the adverts and the public narrative you could be led to think that little orphan Annie turns up on our doorstep with her pink suitcase and gold ringlets and you all live happily ever after eating picnics in the meadow. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our children and young people arrive traumatised, often with mental health and behavioural issues. Our children can have educational and physical health issues, disabilities, disorders and more. They often find it difficult to communicate, be suffering from loss, grief, depression and often undiagnosed issues. They also have birth parents we work with, who often have difficulties of their own, which can sometimes make things challenging. Speaking this reality is not to put you off, far from it, this is an incredible job as all the foster carers who we have quoted below would tell you, but if you are unaware of your role, what to expect, or the expectations you should have of others, things can go wrong very quickly, and the dream turns to dust.TOP TIP: Knowledge and information are key, and speaking to those who actually do the job is paramount.
- Your Social Worker is not your friend
Your supervising social worker may be very friendly and supportive but they work for the local authority or agency and are there to serve them not you. Never get into overly personal friendly chats or get carried away with every minute detail. Create good professional relationships with your social workers and be professional at all times in supervision and all meetings. See “Your role as a professional” in the members’ area (link above in number 4).
- Ask for help when you need it.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. YOU ARE NOT FAILING! We all come into fostering thinking that we already have an idea of how we are going to do it and feeling that we have sufficient life experiences to foster a child. This feeling usually gets shattered very quickly, sometimes within hours of the first placement. This has been true of all of us, and help and support are crucial. Support does vary from provider to provider, however, so put in other Support networks around you to help, that can be buddying up with an experienced carer who you get on with, connecting with professional confidential carer led support groups either physically or online/social media. Although do be mindful of confidentiality.
- Don’t be scared about allegations, be informed.
We all fear the dreaded word ‘allegation’ but don’t bury your head in the sand. Fostering has a much higher than average percentage of allegations/disciplinary proceedings than almost any other job. Avail yourself of every bit of information on allegations to demystify allegations and empower yourself. In the free FosterWiki members area, there is help, support, training, top tips and more about allegations. They unfortunately come with the territory.TOP TIP Make sure you have your own independent support in place right from day one, you can join the foster carers union, the NUPFC, make sure you have the contact details of independent consultants or organisations, connect with other carer colleagues and join a reputable and professional social media group.
- It is alright till it isn’t.
It doesn’t matter if you are your provider’s shining star, or have been fostering for 20 years with an impeccable record, in our experience, it’s all right till it isn’t. Things can change very quickly
and very dramatically, usually when you are least expecting them to. To understand your role, get yourself up to date and educated on allegations, study the top tips and how to safeguard yourself against them. Whilst we take child protection very seriously the vast majority of allegations (over 80%) are unfounded or unsubstantiated and many can be avoided by understanding your role, its limitations of it, and the things that can unwittingly make you vulnerable to an allegation. Access the FosterWiki Top 10 Tips on allegations, there are further short courses, tools and access to experienced help and advice in the members’ area. What foster carers say – unfiltered! Here is some honest feedback on what experienced foster carers wish they had known when they first started. However, don’t be put off as, despite the challenges, most of these carers will tell you, fostering and their children bring huge meaning into their lives, and make a difference to a child’s life, however, small can not be measured against anything else. As one carer says: “The system is challenging but it is the children who put on a brave face each and every day. When they achieve, however small, it is the most amazing experience and I am very humbled indeed. It takes time, they have to start to trust, then the work begins”
Firstly we asked a cross selection of foster carers across the UK:
“From your own experience, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions you had as a new carer about the children and fostering, and what would you advise new carers?”
“The role that trauma plays in the behaviours of the children. The way to help the children who have trauma is through different skills and techniques. That compassion fatigue is a thing and should be taken so much more seriously. I also think the last one would aid retention of carers”
“That I could say no to placement, I realise now that I was pressurised into saying yes to children or young people who were not going to match or vaguely match our family, and I was made to feel that I had to accept children without the full information especially late on a Friday afternoon”
“I came into it thinking I could save them all, I thought I would be given all the info before the children came to me (and truthfully). I thought the young people would be accepting and grateful for what we do for them, I see that differently now”
“Get to know the child’s journey into care. Wish I’d have had this advice when I started out”
“Never just accept what is written about you. Write back with your own narrative as their narrative will always be there and one day that will be their truth”
“Believing I could help them all. Never got the full background. Having no idea how difficult the parents would make it for their own children as well as myself in order to meet their own needs”
“I thought that a good home and love would be enough. In the beginning, I was shocked by the strength of blood ties, however, bad things were, now I understand them”
Then we asked foster carers “From your own experience what do you think are the biggest mistakes new carers make?”
Here’s what they said:
- Not asking enough questions when they first get the call for a placement.
- Not asking for help when they need it.
- Blaming themselves when a placement breaks down.
- Not finding a trusted, experienced foster carer as a mentor.
- Not demanding regular respite weekends.
- Not joining the NUPFC (the foster carers union) and letting my social worker know.
- Not saying no to an unsuitable placement.
- Not knowing that they need to negotiate all payments, respite, additional support needed etc at the first placement planning meeting.
- Believe that all social workers have the best interests of the child first and foremost not ticking boxes and meeting targets.
- Not understanding that there may be a honeymoon period and believing that all the children will be fine – because you haven’t been told about the conditions/behaviours the children may have.
- Not really understanding the role of an FC because you’re just starting off on your journey (we all learn lessons along the way).
- Being too nice and not consistent enough with boundaries – should start as you mean to go on, offer a little flexibility but I believe you must have rules and good routines in place.
- Saying yes too much because of the fear of saying no!
- Falling in love with the kids, Falling in love with the kids, Falling in love with the kids.
- Remember your social worker and the child’s social worker may be friendly but they are not your friend.
- Believe that the training has made you prepared for your placements.
- Believe that all the information you are given about placements is all the information there is.
- If you point out anything that the social worker or child’s social worker has missed/failed to do, you could become prey to an allegation/investigation.
- Believing that it all happens just as the courses tell you and the orphan Anniesyndrome!
- Heart before head (totally understandable ).
- Lack of support leading to self-blame, doing the job at hand and putting our health on the back burner.
- Believe in their marketing.
- Believing you only need an empty room and love.
- Think that 3 days of ‘Skills to foster’ equip you to start fostering.
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/