11 Things They Don't Tell You About Becoming A Foster Carer

If you have done your job properly it will hurt, deeply. The children become part of your family, so letting them go and trying to get on with your life is unbearable.
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Foster Care Fortnight begins today, a time to celebrate families who give loving homes to children in care. Could this be the moment you decide to take the plunge? Before you do, some advice from a foster carer of ten years (including stuff they won’t tell you in training).

1. Children in care are gifted

It’s just that nobody realises yet. They’ve found answers to problems that would break most people. Your job will be to help the children understand how special they are.

2. You’re on your own

You’ll meet tons of new people and be part of a substantial team. But the reality is that when it comes to the tough calls, it is all down to you. Don’t worry: you’ve got what it takes.

3. The approval process is grisly

It leaves no stone unturned and you may feel like you’re being strip-searched. Think of it as prep for the challenges you will face as a foster carer. If you find it too much, foster care is probably not for you. Have you thought about getting a rescue dog?

4. It all happens at the school gate

Winning the trust of parents is key to building the kind of social life that most children take for granted: birthday parties, after school tea, sports clubs, Cub Scouts and so on. But you are a stranger and a foster carer to boot. Not everybody thinks of you as a hero. So be ready to suck it up.

5. Foster care means paperwork

Mountains of it, and endless meetings. When they talk about diary ‘notes’ they mean a thesis. As a foster carer your voice is hugely important, although it will often feel like nobody is listening. You will need patience and lots of coffee/wine/chocolate to get you through it.

6. What about the money?

It’s complicated… Most foster carers receive an allowance to cover the cost of looking after a child at home. This is not a salary and it is not intended to provide a living for the carer, so you will need another source of income. Whether this works for you will largely depend on your own financial circumstances. The Government sets a minimum fostering allowance but it is not compulsory. One thing for sure: the fostering ads you see on buses generally overstate how much you can ‘earn’. So, beware.

7. Saying goodbye is painful

The time may come when children have to move on, and it never gets any easier. If you have done your job properly it will hurt, deeply. The children become part of your family, so letting them go and trying to get on with your life is unbearable. Sometimes it is possible to remain in touch but it is not always so. Much depends on the relationship you have with the people who take over responsibility for their care.

8. Parental contact

Children in foster care may see a parent or another member of their birth family two or three times a week. It is a time of conflicting emotions for children, and the upset often continues for several days. You will spend much time and energy helping children to cope with this routine. It is one of the most challenging aspects of foster care.

9. Everything takes SO LONG

Deciding a child’s long-term future always takes much longer than anyone expects at the outset. Nothing ever goes to plan. Dates are set to be missed. We assume that nothing can be resolved in less than one year, but are not surprised if it takes two. This is a long time for children to be living with such uncertainty, and for you.

10. High and lows

Fostering is an emotional roller-coaster. To make it work you will need a strong support network. It is likely that not all your family and friends will get it. Don’t be too hard on them. Fostering is your choice, not theirs. Over time you will find people who understand what you are going through and who will stick by you. They are worth their weight in gold.

11. You are amazing

Foster carers are rare. There are just 55,000 fostering households out of a total of 27.5million in the UK. So just by picking up the phone to take the first step towards becoming a foster carer you are already doing something very special. Your love and compassion will make an enormous, positive difference to children and young people. Welcome to a very exclusive club.