So, you’ve done your research (made easier, we hope, by using this website!), and found a fostering agency in your local area that feels like a good fit for you and your household. You have taken the first step by getting in touch, and you’ve now had your first meeting (the ‘initial home visit’) with a supervising social worker from your agency’s fostering support team.
You’re feeling excited, and nervous, and certainly keen to know more about what will happen next, and when. In this final part of our guide to fostering, we’ll explain this so that you can feel more confident and reassured about what the process will be from this point onwards. Do bear in mind that our description is general in nature and your fostering agency may do things in slightly different ways. All the same, it is likely to broadly follow this pathway.
If you have successfully passed your initial home visit, which means that you satisfy the basic requirements for fostering, that you have a spare bedroom to offer, other members of your household are supportive of the plan, and your social worker feels from your discussion that you have plenty to offer in a new fostering career, the next stage is likely to be an invitation to join the agency’s next available introduction to fostering training course, known widely as the ‘Skills to Foster’.
The Skills to Foster Course.
This is usually 3-4 full days of group training, alongside other prospective foster carers like you, and delivered by fostering social workers, and other colleagues who are part of the ‘team around the child’. You are likely to meet approved foster carers during the course, who will contribute to your training by sharing about some of the realities of fostering, and by answering any questions you will have.
Sometimes looked-after children or young people may be present, but this is not always the case as it will depend upon their school commitments, and also the fostering agency’s view about a child’s emotional ability to talk about life in care without it upsetting them in any way. From direct experience of coordinating such training and working alongside social workers who deliver it, it is well worth reminding you that every moment of your time and participation at the Skills to Foster course will be carefully observed.
This is later professionally discussed as part of your overall assessment. So, by all means, relax and enjoy the training, but understand that it forms a part of your continuous assessment to become a foster carer. My recommendation to anyone joining Skills to Foster is to get fully involved, learn as much as you can, contribute fully, but also allow others the time and space to benefit from the course as much as you. You may learn from their contribution and no-one scores points for dominating the session!
Primarily you are there to learn, and people who go on to become effective foster carers, usually enjoy and do well in such situations. Following this course, and a professional discussion about individual participation, and strengths, as well as likely training needs in the future, you will then learn if you have been selected to enter the more formal stage of your fostering assessment, commonly called the ‘Form F’.
If you are successful, the next part of your assessment is split into two key stages. As a whole, this usually comprises some 12 formal one-to-one discussions and meetings, and can take around 6-8 months to complete. If you have holidays or other commitments, these may extend that period, so it is worth planning ahead to ensure your availability if you have reached this stage.
Fostering Assessment Stage 1
During your formal assessment to become a foster carer, your assessing social worker will ask you some detailed and probing questions. Some may feel quite intrusive, and others might not feel relevant, but everything that is asked and required of you ensures that only carers who can provide homes for local looked-after children that will meet their needs and improve their life chances will be approved.
You will be encouraged to ask questions so that your social worker can be sure you fully understand each part before moving on to the next, and these may include simple enquiries, like: ‘why do you need to know that?’ You won’t be penalised for questioning the process itself!
Your social worker will have explained such things to many others, and it will indicate to them your attention and focus as you are guided through the gathering and submission of details including personal, family and household information needed to progress your application.
Much of the detail about what fostering is, and the role of a foster carer is contained within a document often called the Foster Carer’s Agreement, which you may be asked to sign. You may also receive other information, among them a Foster Carer’s Charter, or other similar document, that sets out the agency’s procedures for managing a variety of situations that are all a part of the fostering role.
During this period of completing your application, a fostering agency can make a decision about progressing to Stage 2. Included within this will be several elements:
- To ask your GP to complete a full medical
- To ask you to complete forms so that the fostering agency can obtain a DBS certificate (formerly known as the CRB check)
- A DBS certificate will also be needed for everyone else within your household who is over 16 years old or who will be a support carer
- Contacting 2-3 referees (including employers) to interview them about your background, and your skills and suitability to be a foster carer
Your fostering agency will also need to see original copies of these documents:
- Your birth certificate
- Your passport or other certification of nationality
- Your national insurance number
- A marriage or civil partnership certificate (if appropriate)
- A divorce or dissolution certificate (if appropriate)
- Verification of your household income and expenditure
If you are successful at Stage 1 you will progress to Stage 2. The decision made by your fostering agency will usually be given to you in writing. If the decision is not to progress your application to Stage 2, and you don’t agree with this, you can appeal it so that the agency will take into account your feedback whilst reconsidering the decision made. It may be a confirmation of the original decision, however, and the agency’s decision is final.
Fostering Assessment Stage 2
This final stage of your assessment is less about forms and more about you as a person, your family make-up, your home, and your life experience. If any part of your fostering assessment is likely to feel probing and intrusive, it will be this part! However, if you consider that children of your own, or those related or close to close to you were going to be placed into the care of other adults, there is little that is summarised below that is objectionable.
Fostering agencies are all guided by an approach of ‘the child first, and always’, and they have a statutory duty to ensure that the carers they approve will provide the high quality care that is needed for vulnerable children and young people who are traumatised by their early life experiences.
In fact, approved foster carers have shared with me that whilst the assessment does feel a bit ‘nosey’, it is also highly enlightening, and helps them to see that they have all sorts of experience and strengths to bring to fostering. One carer said to me that she found it ‘pleasantly self-indulgent!’ As with any part of your assessment, remember you are free to ask questions, as this will help to consolidate your understanding and give you the confidence to know that, if you are approved, it is because you do have the skills to foster!
The purpose of this final part of your assessment is to complete and prepare the report and recommendation for your approval as a foster carer that will be passed to the agency’s fostering panel. The discussions you have with your assessing social workers will be very deep and insightful. They may also, at times, be emotional, as well as personally validating. Your social worker will be experienced, sympathetic, and above all, non-judgmental, and will be able to support you through all of this process.
When working for a local authority fostering service, I recall a head of service commenting that for new foster carers, ‘we aren’t looking for people with wings on their back’. What he meant, of course, is that nobody is perfect, so you shouldn’t feel the need to be either. Very often, life experience that you may have thought to be negative, can actually prove highly valuable as a foster carer.
Here are some of the areas that are likely to form part of your discussions with your assessing social worker:
Who you are as a person, your personal and family relationships, your capacity to look after and care for children placed with you, any previous child care experience, and your employment, leisure activities and interests. What has made you into the person you are today and what creates stability and security in your life that would enable you to become a foster carer?
What are the reasons you are applying to foster? Why is now a good time to foster? What experiences of caring for children have prepared you to become a foster carer? In what ways are those experiences indicative of how you might parent a fostered child?
Your family of origin, including siblings and other significant family members or relationships that have influenced your development. Your sense of personal identity (including class, racial and ethnic, gender, sexual, cultural, language and spiritual). This will include your attitudes to and experiences of diversity. How have you addressed issues of diversity in your life? How will you promote the child’s cultural and religious heritage?
The current adult relationships that make up your household (by marriage, civil partnership, co-habitation) and your household’s membership and their relationships with each other including any birth or fostered/adopted children, and other adults related or not.
References from former partners – which are always handled very sensitively and you will be asked for consent to conduct. Your first reaction here is most likely to be anxiety, and fostering agencies understand why. But imagine that children of your own were going to live with strangers you had never met; would you be interested to hear what a former partner might share? It is for those same reasons that fostering agencies also need to look into. There simply is no other way to uncover such issues as prior domestic violence if those situations never came to the attention of the authorities.
Your accommodation (including an evaluation of its suitability for children), a health and safety report on your home, and your financial circumstances. Have you ever had a county court judgement made against you or have you ever been declared bankrupt?
What are your expectations about fostering children and are these realistic? How will you manage the competing demands and priorities of children placed? What are the anticipated changes in your life and lifestyle following the placement of a child and what plans do you have to address this? What will be the impact of fostering upon the everyday lives of other family members and in particular any children in your household? How will a fostered child experience your family?