If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes almost as many people to write a book about foster care. This Foster Care Fortnight, we published a handbook for carers, called Welcome to Fostering. I use 'we' in the broadest sense. The book is published by Jessica Kingsley, and my name appears on the front, at the top, alongside Andy Elvin, Chief Executive the fostering and adoption charity TACT.
Delve inside, and you will find a memorable poem by Solomon OB, and a poignant foreword by Lorraine Pascale, both of whom grew up in foster care. The handbook itself includes contributions from more than a dozen people, from an expert in child protection to a parent who has experienced the child protection process. This really is a collaborative effort, just as it takes it takes a team of people to provide the best care for a child who has been removed from his or her birth family.
The need for a contemporary guide to fostering was never in doubt. In recent years, the role of foster carer has become more challenging, for a number of reasons. More children are coming into care, with more complex needs. Access to support for foster carers has become more difficult, as a consequence of austerity. And the drive towards greater professionalism has increased the range of skills and expertise that foster carers must demonstrate to continue to care for children and young people.
No two foster carers are the same, and no two children are identical. Hence, the need for the handbook to reflect a diversity of approaches. Our ambition is that foster carers old and new will reflect on the experiences of our contributors and reflect on how these learnings may be relevant to their own approach to foster care.
This handbook really is rooted in lived experience. It includes numerous case studies, as told by children and young people who have been in care, and the reflections of foster carers on the challenges they have faced, at different stages of the careers. It should leave you with an insight into their take on the big picture, but also into everyday life. "Always make sure they have a blanket when they leave," says one foster carer. "Don't wash it, as it needs to have a familiar smell to help them settle. Even our 16-year old took a blanket with her." One young person takes foster carers to task for not knowing enough about different religions and how it affects lifestyles, including diet. "They should at least have a basic knowledge, and be eager to learn more."
And that is one of the points about Welcome to Fostering. If you were expecting a sugar-coated depiction of life as a foster carer, then this book is not for you. The challenges of foster care are immense, and this book does not pretend otherwise. For example, we deal with the risk of allegations against foster carers, and what it feels like to be under suspicion. How should you respond to a foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is increasingly common? We also help you navigate the turbulent waters of regular parental contact, and to understand the impact it can have on the children.
I have written a chapter about what to expect when a placement comes to an end. Saying goodbye is one of the biggest challenges you face as a foster carer, when a child or young person who has been a member of your family for months, or even years, moves on. One of the main reasons families list for not becoming foster carers is because they do not know how they would cope when the moment came to say goodbye. It gets no easier, even with experience. But hopefully this chapter will help new foster carers prepare for that moment.
Lord Laming, who has a long and distinguished career in children's social care, has very kindly recommended this book. He has described foster carers as heroes of the state, and he is absolutely right. As Lord Laming says, every day foster carers generously open their homes and families to care for a hitherto unknown child.
The need for more heroes has never been greater. With Welcome to Fostering, we hope we can remove some of the mystery that surrounds foster care, and encourage more families to make a commitment to welcome children in care.
The final word must be left to the poem by Solomon OB, on behalf of children who are fostered:
But we are not mistakes on pages
We are simply awesome novels
With unorthodox beginnings.