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Making the choice to become a foster carer is a huge life decision to make. It’s the chance to change someone’s life for the better and whilst it can be a hugely fulfilling experience, there are many challenges along the way which can make becoming a foster carer seem extremely daunting when you’re first heading into it.
New foster carers rarely know what to expect and every person you look after will have a different life, circumstances, values and morality. No two people are ever the same. As a foster carer, you will be bringing a child into your family life which means that your whole family unit will need to be supportive and committed to providing a good family upbringing for the foster child you take in so they can experience a happy and fulfilling childhood with you!
1: Understand The Types Of Fostering
There are many different types of fostering to go into, so think about what kind of fostering you would like to embark into and what kind of a role you would like to play in the foster child’s life. So what kinds of fostering are there?
- Sibling Fostering: Being separated from their siblings can be absolutely devastating for children of any age. Not all foster carers can cope with siblings, however it makes it much easier for children to adapt to changes when they have another family member with them.
- Short Term Fostering: There are some times when children will need to be housed immediately. Short term fostering can last anything from a night to a few months, but it’s really important for keeping children safe in dangerous situations! Children who need short term fostering often have social or behavioural issues which can make it quite challenging.
- Long Term Fostering: This is where you look after children for the whole of their childhood which is a huge commitment! Fostering usually becomes long term after a child has lived with their foster family for a while, there are a lot of responsibilities, but it’s a very rewarding experience!
- Emergency Foster Care: You will need to be available evenings and weekends and remain on standby in case you are needed! You will normally be needed any time between a day to a few months! Emergency Fostering is transitional and you may end up with quite a few short term placements!
- Step-Down Foster Care: As a step down carer, you will be helping support younger children who are transitioning from residential care to a foster family environment. This kind of care can be exceptionally challenging at times, but equally rewarding!
- Respite Fostering: Respite Foster Care can be amazingly useful for people who don’t have a support network or family around them. You will help give people a chance to rest up so they can better cope with the children in their care!
- Disability Foster Care: Sometimes children with unfortunate medical conditions and disabilities can end up in the system, the children you choose to look after and support may have a range of medical conditions, learning, physical and emotional difficulties.
- Parent and Child Foster Care: It is very important that families are kept together and when young people under the age of 18 have babies, there are times when fostering agencies will want to keep them together. Sometimes this can apply to older parents who have complicated conditions or needs.
- Remand Foster Care: Sometimes young people need foster care when they are waiting to be processed by the justice system. This experience can be extremely stressful for young people, and whilst it can be challenging and require a lot of patience, being a remand foster carer is a rewarding thing to do!
You might believe that only one specific type of child will fit in with your family. This isn’t always the case. Your family will undergo an assessment process and upon approval, social workers will work with you to decide upon the suitable placements for your family.
2: Make Sure To Do Research!
It’s always important to know about the people you are looking after. There is a chance that the people you take into your family will have experienced neglect or abuse. When you bring a new child into your home, these previous experiences can have a profound effect on the way this child views the world. It’s vital to learn what you can about their circumstances so that you can accommodate their needs.
It can be important to talk to the children as well, find out what they personally like and dislike and show support to them in the pursuits of their interests. Spending time with them you will learn a lot more than you will learn from documents detailing their experiences, but it’s always important to learn as much as you can about the child so you can make the experience of living with you the best it can possibly be!
3: Work On Building Relationships With Children
Foster care can be incredibly difficult at times. Many children in foster care have had horrible experiences and some of them have been subjected to many different kinds of abuse. They have had to leave their familiar surroundings and it can be really hard for them to develop trust.
You have to have a lot of patience at times and realise that it is not always going to be easy for you. Relationships are built over time and with a lot of effort, in some cases a lot is required, whereas sometimes trust can be gained relatively quickly, the important thing is to be there for the child and respond to their needs. You should try and be supportive as possible, and be aware that sometimes you will be asked questions that are difficult or potentially unpleasant.
You have to take the time to get to know the child, what they like, what they don’t like. Work on building a positive relationship and broaden their horizons. What are their interests? Do they have a hobby or something they would really like to do with their life? How will you support them in this? These are some questions you should ask yourself.
4: Training: Learning To Become A Foster Carer
Whilst the idea of becoming a Foster Carer can sometimes be daunting, the agency you work for will provide all of the necessary training to handle the situations which might arise. They will also provide support in difficult situations so there is seldom a need to worry. There are also social worker visits which can help you make the best choices in regard to the child’s happiness and wellbeing.
There are support groups and buddy systems to help you if times get tough! You should commit to the training you are given by your agency and always keep up to date on everything you need to know to make sure that you are doing the right things in every situation!
5: Your Lifestyle May Have To Adapt!
As people we have our own lifestyle that we have gotten used to over the years, however this also applies to the children who you will be looking after as a Foster Carer. These children will all have their own thoughts, dreams, ambitions, needs and desires and you will have to adapt your lifestyle to cater for these needs. You have to be open to change and not resist it. Your home should be a safe place for your foster child to learn and grow in a way which will suit and benefit them.
This will also apply to your family. As a family unit you are all taking a new child into your home, who may well have different values and ideals, and it’s important to make this new person feel welcome and comfortable in their new home!
6: Fostering Is Not Adoption
When you take a child into your family, you are looking after them in a partnership with the authority that places the child with you. Whilst you will be capable of making many decisions in regards to the child’s wellbeing and safety, there will be other decisions that the local authority may make which you may have to abide by.
You must be aware that fostering placements will not always last until the children in your care become adults. You have to be prepared to say goodbye. This can be a very hard experience for any foster family, however sometimes these things are necessary. You should always accept what is in the child’s best interests even if it can seem hard at times!
The Most Important Thing!
The most important thing to remember is that you get to make a real difference to a child who will have come from a bad situation, possibly suffering from neglect or abuse. Fostering can be hard, complicated and stressful, but it can also be a wonderful happy experience! Fostering doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment and you can specify the type of care you would like to provide. The best part is that when you take on the role of a foster carer you will be changing the life of a child forever, and that is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have!