Foster care and caring for autistic children 1

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Foster care and caring for autistic children 1

Foster care for autistic children

Foster carers and autism

Foster care is challenging and for those involved in the provision of foster care, one of the biggest challenges we face is to recruit enough foster parents. It regularly reported by the leading charity, The Fostering Network, that every 20 minutes a child is taken into care. They then need to be found a foster family. A significant proportion of these children will have a disability of one sort or another. Many will have special needs. It is a sad fact that these can be the most problematic children for the local authorities to try and place with foster parents. And when it is considered that roughly 40% of children and young people needing foster homes have a disability or particular special need. A significant proportion of these will have autism. This means that there is a pressing need to find fostering families who have the training and skills to provide care for these children. What is disturbing, is that without enough experienced foster carers, many autistic children find themselves in residential care homes.

Carers should be aware of the autism spectrum.

There are approximately 700,000 individuals in the United Kingdom caressed as being on the autism spectrum. Autism is an umbrella term which covers a range of different conditions named Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is a disorder which can bring about particular difficulties and cause impairments. It’s also worth recognising that people who are autistic can often also demonstrate special abilities. The day-to-day experience of children and young people with ASD is very different from other children. Children with ASD see the world in a way other children do not. This means the care they receive – depending on the severity of their disorder – has to be different from other children. Youngsters with ASD, do not generally respond well to being placed in situations where there may be a degree of spontaneity. This means that before going on special trips, all the planning needs to be done well in advance. Again, this is because children with ASD respond poorly to situations that are novel and unpredictable. These children like the familiarity of set routines and so cope poorly with change. But change is, of course, something everyone has to cope with: it’s just something that cannot be avoided. So an effective way to get an autistic child to be comfortable with the idea of a change of any kind, is to create a timeline. This helps them to adjust and become comfortable with whatever change is going to take place.  

What those involved in fostering should understand about ASD

If you’re providing foster care for a child or young person with ASD, it will mean being prepared to adapt to meeting what can be fairly complex needs. Foster carers certainly need to be resilient, resourceful and able to think creatively. This allows them to be capable of being able to adapt to situations that can be difficult and challenging. Patience is required – as well as a sense of humour.

So it’s important to be clear that fostering a child on the autism spectrum can pose particular demands. There can well be a range of emotional issues to anticipate and contend with. And there are some important steps that, if taken, can protect a placement. Even before an autistic child arrives at the foster parent’s home, an effort should be made to find out as much as possible about the child’s routines. Foreknowledge of what are the likely triggers for their anxieties – as well as  their likes and dislikes –  will facilitate the creation of an environment that the child will feel more relaxed in.

It is important that a foster carer familiarises themselves with the food preferences of a child – as well as their bedtime routine. You should, before the child arrives at your home, have been given all the information relating to their sensory needs.

Remember: it is always important to manage change. Foster carers must allow plenty of time for a child or young person to adjust to their new surroundings. It’s not a good idea to dash out and buy lots of new and different things. And it’s also not a good idea to remove things that children may have brought with them – something seemingly quite unimportant could have special significance. Creating a sense of daily structure and setting boundaries straight away will be dividends in the future. Children with ASD do much better and are reassured when there is consistency. 

The levels of anxiety that autistic children experience can fluctuate. It’s likely no two days will ever be quite the same. This means that a foster carer should be prepared to be adaptable. A child might seem to be well established as far as certain behaviours go, but this can change. New patterns of behaviour can emerge which need to be recognised and then understood. It may not always be possible to understand what may have triggered changes in a child’s behaviour. Arriving at an understanding of the needs and problems of a child with ASD will require insight as well as patience. 

Foster carers who are successful in providing the right kind of loving, stable home life for an autistic child, will experience the huge difference they can make. This can be deeply rewarding.

Making the right educational choices.

Choosing the right school is particularly important if the child has to change schools as a consequence of coming into foster care. This will mean visiting the school they are currently in and finding out as much as possible about their day-to-day experiences from their teacher. It should be possible to be able to spend some time in the classroom observing their behaviour – how they might be interacting with other children. 

It’s also a good idea to take the time and make the effort to make enquiries about your local SEN (Special Educational Needs) schools. The reports on them produced by Ofsted will be available. They are a valuable source of information. You should also be prepared to make a visit. Some may not consider accepting a child or young person if the foster parent has not made a preliminary visit. Remember, It is perfectly acceptable to make enquiries concerning the training staff have had in dealing with autistic children. Also, determine what the schools general experience of dealing with special needs children is. It should always be possible to access good levels of support for foster carers. A quick check on a local authority website will provide information about local groups concerned with autism. There are many organisations that provide additional training and support – as well as organising special activities. Going out of your way to meet other parents with autistic children is a good way of adding to your own knowledge. 

Social interaction.

Autistic children can have to deal with communication and social interaction challenges. The child you are fostering might experience difficulty in social situations. Most children appear to know intuitively how to interact and communicate with one another. If you are fostering an autistic child it can be difficult to understand why it is they are struggling with social interaction. This is especially the case if they have high levels of skills in other areas.

Children with autism may – 

  • be hard to comfort;
  • give the appearance of being withdrawn;
  • display a preference to play alone;
  • appear to be indifferent to those around them;
  • only accept contact if this is first initiated by others;
  • make approaches to their peers, but in a way that is unusual;
  • rely on very formal language;
  • be overly governed by rules.

Things to know when considering fostering with Rainbow.

Before considering whether to foster an autistic child, remember that foster care can mean different things to different people. Caring for vulnerable and often confused children requires special skills. There are many independent fostering agencies, but Rainbow takes pride in the special way we work in partnership with all our foster carers. This is to ensure the welfare of our children at all times. 

The children we care for are not adopted, they are fostered. The difference is that adoptive parents assume the full legal responsibility for a child or young person. Importantly, foster care and adoption differ: a child who is fostered becomes the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ who is the Local Authority.

We work hard to build the parenting skills of our foster parents. This enables them to deal with the emotional demands a child or young person may place on them. Children arriving in foster care come in all shapes and sizes. So need to be prepared. The foster care system can seem a confusing place for people when they first apply. A foster family with Rainbow will always be able to rely completely on our commitment to providing the best support and training. We provide plenty of respite care so we know that our foster carers are always energised and fresh for the demands fostering makes. At the present moment in time, some 8,000 new foster families are needed. Fostering with Rainbow means you will be given the opportunity to develop a professional career. 

And that means that you could be earning up to £40,000 p.a. if you train to become a therapeutic foster carer. Foster carers qualify for enhanced rates of pay if they are caring for children with complex needs. Visit our website page for more information: 

Complex needs

A proportion of our children go for adoption. This most usually happens when a long-term placement has progressed well for everyone involved. There is also a demand for adoptive parents in the UK.

Visit our website page on training for more information:

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