How to become a foster carer
People don’t make a decision about fostering overnight. By the time you pick up the phone to your local council and make the initial inquiry, it is usually the culmination of a long period of reflecting and talking with family members and friends. You may have been mulling it over for years, waiting for the right time. It is a huge moment when you make that call, and you may expect things to happen very quickly.
The reality is that this is just the beginning of a process. You won’t be expected to welcome children into your home until you are sure you’re ready, and this will take a number of months. Assessment and preparation are thorough and in-depth. It can feel daunting and even frustrating at times. But many foster families value the opportunity to spend time with others going through the same process and to reflect on the experiences that brought them to the point of wanting to foster.
So, what can you expect?
This is an informal chat with the fostering service’s enquiries team. It is an opportunity to find out more about fostering before you make a commitment. You will be asked to provide some basic information about yourself and your motivation for becoming a foster parent. Some of the questions are entirely practical; for example, around how much space you have in your home for children and whether children would be able to have their own separate bedroom. You can also find out more about fostering and the application process to help you decide if it something you’re ready for.
The next step will be a home visit by a supervising social worker. This will involve a more detailed conversation about your circumstances, your family, any experience that is relevant to fostering and the reasons why you want to become a foster carer.
This is a fact-finding mission for everyone. You will have the opportunity to ask further questions. Maybe you want to know more about the application process or the impact on other family members. There is no such thing as a silly question, so ask away. Give it some thought in the days before the visit and make a note of anything you want to talk about.
Home visits can feel daunting. Try to remember that the social worker is not trying to catch you out. The fostering service really needs you and will do everything possible to address any concerns or remove any obstacles. For example, making potential hazards in your garden safe or discussing options for transport to and from school. These are concerns that many foster carers have and can usually be resolved without difficulty.
Application and assessment
Let’s be clear: the assessment process is thorough and can feel intrusive. You will be asked intimate questions and will be required to share personal details. Almost every aspect of your private life, including your current relationship, relationship history and your childhood, will be discussed. You will find yourself returning to events and issues you do not think about very often or haven’t thought about since they happened. Sometimes these moments prompt conversations with other family members about incidents from the past, which can be a pleasant experience but sometimes can be difficult.
It is at this point that some prospective foster carers walk away, but these interviews are essential. As a foster carer you will be entrusted with the care of some of the most vulnerable children. It is vital that foster carers who are approved have the necessary quality and insights to offer outstanding care. And it is better to confront any unresolved conflicts from your past now than to be triggered by something when you are caring for a young person with trauma. However, it is important to look after yourself during the application process.
After completing your application form, you will be allocated a supervising social worker, who will work with you to complete a detailed assessment of your suitability to become a foster carer. This is called a Form F assessment. It involves a number of checks, including medical, financial and police checks. Because fostering involves the whole family, checks will be carried out on other members of the household. Contact is also made with other significant adults in your life, including ex-partners and adult children. Your social worker will tell you what the checks entail and who needs to be involved. Once again, there is a risk of revisiting difficult situations, but this alone should not get in the way of your application.
Many people from different backgrounds and experiences become foster carers. Never assume that you will be stopped from fostering because you may have had a difficult childhood or lived through complex adult relationships. Sometimes these experiences inspire people to foster and it can give them a unique insight into the difficulties a child might be going through.
Your perspective on those lived experiences can shape the way you care for a child and present you with some vital skills for supporting children who have experienced trauma.
Skills to foster
As a foster carer you will have access to extensive training, starting with the Skills to Foster course . This is a three-day introductory course designed to give you an insight into the role of a foster carer and the expectations of you and your family. It will also explain how you will work with other people in the child’s life, such as their birth family, their social worker and their legal guardian. You will meet other potential foster carers, some of whom may become part of your support network over the years. You will be offered advice and encouragement by people who know the system inside out and have experienced the highs and lows of fostering.
Panel and approval
The final stage of your application process is the panel review. A fostering panel consists of experienced care professionals who will review your assessment, including your Form F, and make a recommendation to the fostering service about your suitability to foster.
Panel meetings take place at the offices of your local council and your assessing social worker will be at your side to offer support throughout. You may be asked some questions during the panel process, but your assessing social worker will have worked with you in advance to help prepare you. The panel will then consider your assessment and make their recommendation.
Understandably, prospective carers do become anxious about facing panel. But by this point the hard work is done. It is unlikely that you would have been put forward for panel if anyone had concerns about whether you will pass.
Normally, the panel will let you know if you have been approved at the end of the meeting. This is a big moment and cause for celebration. Set aside time for a special meal or treat to recognise what you have already achieved. Share the moment with special people in your life who have accompanied you on this journey and will support you in the future.
First child or children
Your journey doesn’t end with approval; this is just the start! Your fostering service will be overjoyed to have another family to call upon the next time a child comes into care and needs a safe, loving home. You may get a phone call fairly quickly or you may have to wait a few weeks. The important thing for you is to feel confident that you will be ready when the moment arrives.