How to become a foster carer

Whether you are keen to become a parent but unable to have children, your own kids have flown the nest and you feel you have more to give, or you simply want to help those in need, there are many children in the UK who are in desperate need of foster carers.

Become a foster carer

Pic: Getty

If you are considering fostering kids, here's what you need to know.

Who can become a foster carer?
Many adults in the UK believe they are not suitable for fostering, but the truth is all kinds of people can become a carer. People of any ethnicity, religious background, and sexuality are considered, and you don't have to be married or have children of your own, as long as you have cared for children via family contact, volunteering or employment.

If you have space in your home to provide a child with their own bedroom in a stable environment, and have the understanding, energy and confidence to cope with potentially challenging kids, then you will be considered as a foster carer.

Types of fostering
There are many different types of fostering, some short-term and some much longer term. For instance, a vulnerable child may need a safe place at which to stay for one or two nights in an emergency, their parents may be ill and they need somewhere to stay short term, and in some cases, foster carers provide much-needed cover for parents who are full-time carers to their children and need a break.

Others require fostering in order to avoid a custodial sentence, and a foster carer may be instrumental in helping them to change their behaviour and put them on the right track. Many foster kids have suffered neglect, abuse or trauma, and in some cases a carer will work with professionals to help vulnerable children to overcome a bad start in life.

Where a child's situation is unlikely to change, they may require permanent or long-term fostering, where they will stay in the care of their foster parents for months or even years, until they are ready to live independently.

Getting started
The first place to go if you are hoping to foster children is either your local council or a fostering agency. While some councils place foster kids directly, others use agencies, but you can also contact an agency directly. Some will allow you to fill out an enquiry form online, or you can simply call.

What happens next?
Once you have provided some basic information, a social worker will usually contact you to ask a few further questions about your accommodation, working arrangements, others who live in your home, and your experience of caring for children and so on. In some cases, you will be asked to attend an information evening to learn more about what is required and the challenges you may face as a foster carer.

Should you wish to continue, a social worker will visit you at your home, where they will meet all the members of the family and discuss your background, skills and abilities, as well as how you might deal with potentially troubled children who might be in your care. If the social worker considers you to be right for fostering, you will then be asked to fill out an application form, and supply references, both personal and professional. CRB checks will be carried out on any members of the family who are over 18.

The assessment process can be quite lengthy, often taking up to six months. During this time, a social worker will make several visits to your home to further discuss what lies ahead and what type of fostering you would be suitable for, and puts together a home assessment report, which is supplied to a foster care panel. You will also be expected to attend a preparation and training group to learn more about fostering, including child development, managing challenging behaviour, working with the child's own family, and preparing youngsters for leaving care.

With all the information in hand, the foster care panel of either the local council or the agency will make a recommendation as to your suitability as a foster carer, and make a decision about how many children and of what age you may care for. Your approval will be reviewed annually.

Is it for you?
The assessment process and training will provide applicants with all the information and preparation they need to become a foster carer, but it is a big decision. With potentially challenging children living in your home, it is essential that all members of the family are on board, as patience, co-operation and communication is key to success.

Financial support is available for foster carers so you will receive an allowance to cover the cost of caring for each child, dependent upon their age, the area in which you live, and any special needs the child may have. Emotional and professional support is also available, either through your fostering agency, or via Fosterline, the confidential advice service for carers.

Fostering can be tough for both you and your family, and there may be times when relationships become strained as a result, but ultimately it is an extremely rewarding experience, and helps to put thousands of vulnerable children on the path to a happy and successful life. If you think you can help, contact your local council or a fostering agency for more information.

Are you already a foster carer? What advice would you give to someone considering taking on foster children? Leave your comments below...