People from all walks of life can foster children. You may be married, in a civil partnership, or single. Foster carers come from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Foster carers can rent or own their homes. Some foster carers successfully combine some working hours along with fostering too.
However, it’s important to understand that fostering is a privilege, not a right. There are some prerequisites that all prospective foster carers must offer. Some of these may feel strict or unnecessary, but all exist because best practice has found these to be necessary to ensure strong and stable fostering placements.
To foster, you must offer this.
The essential requirements for fostering are much more dependent upon practicalities and personal attributes, than qualifications, of which no formal certificates are required, although any theoretical learning that bears relevance to any aspect of fostering and the needs of children and young people in care will certainly be advantageous. Your location and individual needs of fostering agencies may vary, but you should be able to offer all of the following:
Fostering fee and allowance.
Fostering is not a ‘job’ in the most commonly understood sense. Financial support is of course provided to all foster carers, and usually comes in two parts:
This is paid to you to meet all of the needs of children entrusted into your care, for example meals, clothing, healthcare, pocket money, savings, entertainment, the pursuit of hobbies, and for holidays, birthdays and special occasions, and to cover an increase in the cost of household bills, and;
A fee element
This is paid to you in recognition of your valued role, to spend as you wish. There may be differences to this in Scotland.
Whilst fostering agencies of any type may pay more than these minimum allowances (and most do), rarely do people become foster carers who are primarily motivated by income alone. A foster carer of 15 years, who has looked after a hundred children and young people once put it to me in words that describe it best:
“I don’t do it for the money, but I couldn’t do it without the money.”
Having shared this remark with other approved foster carers, all have agreed with this. No one goes into fostering to get rich! Below is a table that indicates the current minimum weekly allowance that foster carers get to cover the cost of caring for a child:
|Rest of UK||£123||£126||£139||£159||£185|
Consider your options before making a commitment.
Additional financial support may be offered so it is worth exploring a few within your area to ensure you apply to be assessed by an agency that is going to meet your needs as a carer if you are approved.
Some may provide continued fee payments following the end of one placement and the start of another, or an extra amount paid to cover the cost of foster children joining you on holiday.
Others may offer an annual loyalty award, or increase your fee with experience, or the achievement of a relevant qualification.
And increasingly fostering agencies will pay a ‘finder’s fee’ to their foster carers who encourage a friend to come forward to foster.
Whether you are approved as a foster carer with an independent fostering provider or a local authority, in both cases, you will not become an employee of the agency. Foster carers are classed as self-employed, and there is a guide about what this means for you on the Government’s website
Flexibility helps ensure continuity of placements, and your income.
One of the most sought-after qualities in new foster carers is personal adaptability and the enthusiasm to learn and develop within your fostering career. For example, your application to become a foster carer will be given priority if:
- You would like to look after sibling groups
- One adult is at home all the time for small children or can be available for older children
- You are able to bring and collect children to their existing schools
- You can care for older children including some who need your help to return to school
- You can facilitate contact between looked after children and their birth families
Fostering agencies place high emphasis upon learning and development, and with good reason. I have worked with around 20 fostering agencies, and all have well-established training, development and support groups in place to help you acquire new skills and share your experience of fostering for the benefit of others.
When you foster, everyone else does too!
There is often a strong ‘family feel’ within fostering agencies, and building a network of other carers can be a valuable support in addition to your own supervising social worker. Fostering agencies provide round the clock support, so you are never left on your own.
A final point to end on here is that all members of your household must be fully supportive of fostering if it is to be successful for you and the children that are placed with you. Remember, partners and children will be ‘fostering’ too!
Please click to read the next section: Becoming a foster carer
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© Do Fostering Ltd 2017. All copy is originally written and may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author, Sean Parry.