Fostering has provided a deeply rewarding activity for many years but is now being developed as a career path. We look at how you can become a foster carer and fit it around existing family commitments.
Foster care has traditionally been recognised as a way for people to better the lives of children by taking them into their own homes and looking after them. Foster carers share this responsibility of care with a local authority or the child’s parents, whether this is on a short- or long-term basis. It is a way of providing help and care to children whose parents are unable to look after them. All children deserve a loving home environment in which they can feel safe and where they are able to get away from at times serious problems, which could include domestic violence or drugs misuse. By offering comfortable surroundings to a child, with your help, they can begin to build a happy and successful future.
This rewarding opportunity is now being perceived as an opportunity for professionals to excel, as well as benefit the lives of children. Children’s well-being obviously remains the impetus for the sector, but more and more people and organisations alike are realising the additional financial gains of fostering. With a national shortage in foster carers – a shortfall of 10,000 in 2009 – attracting people to foster as a career is an intelligent way to help vulnerable children and decrease unemployment simultaneously. The shortage of carers also means that there is less choice for social services to place children, resulting in many children being separated from their siblings or moved from home to home – which can be traumatic, especially for already troubled children.
The aim of foster care is to provide stability for children, so ensuring there are as many carers as possible means that they will be matched to a well-suited carer from the start. Alastair Pratt, HR Manager of Orange Grove Fostercare shares this vision: “Standards are high and the good agencies take great care in matching children being placed to the foster home ensuring the best possible outcomes for children.”
Becoming a foster carer is open to all, regardless of whether you are married or single, heterosexual or homosexual. As long as you are over the age of 21 and have a spare bedroom for the child you are looking to foster, then you have the fundamentals to enter foster care. Some form of experience with children or in care is usually necessary, whether it be as a parent or in an employment or voluntary capacity – but most importantly, you need to want to help children who can’t help themselves.
If you are interested in entering the sector, then it is recommended that you contact your local fostering service which will be able to provide you with detailed information about the commitments of becoming a carer. If you then wish to continue with the process, an assessment will be carried out to determine whether you are suitable to care for a child. For further information about what you should expect from your local authority, with regards to the fostering service, it may be useful to consult the Foster Carers’ Charter that was published by the government in March 2011.
One of the most significant problems that fostering is confronting presently is that almost two-thirds of foster carers are over the age of 50. This means that over the next 10 to 15 years the majority of those currently fostering may decide to retire, leaving a severe gap in the sector. It is for this reason that fostering services are seeking younger people who wish to take on the responsibility of caring for a child. In 2009, it was estimated that only 6% of the fostering workforce were in their thirties.
Fostering stands as a brilliant career opportunity for the high quantity of individuals currently being made redundant. It offers the prospect of a career change for those who have suddenly been made unemployed or to gain an income whilst they decide on their next step. The fact that becoming a foster carer implies a range of valuable transferable skills means that it can become helpful in future employment for the carer, so not only is it a financial benefit but also a skills aid. Pratt confirms: “All new foster carers have to complete the CWDC (Children’s Workforce Development Council) workbook within the first 12 months of being approved and all agencies have a programme of ongoing training.”
To add, as you learn, you will see the child or children you are fostering learning too, achieving new things and growing in confidence – just as satisfying as your personal development. Another advantage of fostering as a career choice is its flexibility; you are able to work from home on either a short- or long-term basis and thus combine an occupation with family life. If you have a family, it is advisable that you speak to your children about the process to ensure they are comfortable with becoming part of a foster family. You can even continue to work full-time whilst you foster children if necessary, as long as you have the capacity to organise your current employment around fostering. Although it is always important to remember that fostering is a vocational occupation, and the decision to enter into it should not be made lightly – as it is far from a 9-to-5 position.
As well as gaining transferable skills through foster care, additionally there is the possibility of studying for a qualification such as an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification). The most appropriate NVQ for foster carers is The Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce, which allows you to develop your expertise in childcare and support. The flexibility of the modules married with the opportunity to use your work as a carer as evidence for your portfolio makes the qualification a valuable way to increase your employability alongside the personal and financial gains of fostering.
Many types of fostering are accessible for those new to the arena, which means your career can be tailored to your experience and your availability. To outline a few examples of the possibilities open to you, there is emergency fostering which involves caring for children for a few nights at short notice and short-break foster care for children with behavioural problems or difficulties who regularly stay with a carer so that their full-time fosterer or family can have a break. Other more specialised areas of fostering include offering care for children with special needs such as learning difficulties, hyperactivity, and autism. Another option is remand fostering when certain fosterees – typically teenagers – are remanded by a court to go to specially trained fosterers. These are just a few instances of the variety of fostering situations available which means you will be able to find a type of care that is suited to your experience and day-to-day life.
When starting out as a foster carer you have two options with whom you can progress, these being Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) and Local Authorities (LAs). They both provide allowances for carers that are designed to cover the cost of travel, food and clothes for the child or children you are caring for.These organisations do however differ in terms of allowance: with IFAs you generally receive a basic weekly fee of £400 regardless of the age of the child. If you decide to foster children with special needs or on remand, then you will be paid further allowances due to the expertise such a role demands. Comparatively, LAs use the nationally recommended fee and allowance rates for each child depending on their age, with a weekly amount paid to each fosterer. These figures in London, for example, range from £154.30 for children aged 0-4 up to £266.01 for those aged 16 and over (rates in other regions will vary). Additional payments that can span between £50 and £200 per week are also offered in relation to the carer’s level of experience. If you are on benefits, such as Income Support or Housing Benefit, you should still be able to claim these but you will need to speak to your local Benefits Office. This is because any money that you receive for fostering is an allowance that is to be spent on the child you are looking after; it is not classed as a wage.
The mutual benefits of becoming a foster care professional to helpless children – and those looking for employment – makes it beneficial to all concerned. With a national shortage of foster carers, looking at the sector as an opportunity for career development ensures that this societal issue can be rectified to the advantage of jobseekers: a great opportunity to help others whilst helping yourself. So if you are looking for a challenging yet hugely rewarding experience then foster care is the perfect chance to do something fulfilling as a job.