Foster care is a calling that inevitably invokes stereotypical images. People who have no connection with what is involved with fostering children will almost certainly picture carers being a certain age. And that tends not to be of people under the age of thirty. Nothing wrong with that. But It is a stereotype that has to be challenged for the simple reason that foster carers; like all of us age and retire. This, as time rolls by, represents a huge loss of experience. And this need to be addressed urgently. As this year’s Foster Care Fortnight – the UK’s biggest foster care recruitment campaign – is almost upon us, it’s time to reflect on how we might attract a younger generation into fostering. So too is important to support this annual drive from the leading foster care charity, The Fostering Network. In their own words, the campaign is:
The Fostering Network’s annual campaign to raise the profile of fostering and to show how care transforms lives. It is also the UK’s biggest fostering recruitment campaign. Over 8,000 new families are needed in the next 12 months alone to care for a range of children, with the greatest need being for carers for older children, sibling groups and disabled children.”
And as the charity goes on to say:
“One of the aims of Foster Care Fortnight is to raise the profile of fostering and the transformational power of fostering – the power to #changeafuture. We often find that existing foster carers are the best advert for fostering, so if you are a foster carer (or are part of a fostering family or fostering service) please help spread the word.”
Foster care needs to attract a younger generation to become carers.
The fact is that the majority – three-quarters of people who care for children – are aged over forty-five. The law permits people to apply to foster from the age of eighteen. Most agencies will want a person to be a minimum of twenty-one – which is still very young. But that is still a big difference between forty-five. The goal should be to present fostering children as a real career choice to people in the age band of twenty-five to forty-five. And ideally, the messaging should aim to resonate with people thirty and over as they are likely to have more life experience and be in more stable situations than people who are younger.
There is a powerful argument for a major public awareness campaign. The evidence for this shows up in research The Fostering Network has conducted which highlights that many young people “rule themselves out” of fostering with only “22 per cent of people aged 18-25 thinking they would even be accepted as carers, were they to apply within the next two years. This shows that there is a clear need to get some basic information across. It would also be extremely valuable to target that very niche group of youngsters – children of carers – who have grown up sharing their mums and dads as well as their homes. Their experience of fostering will be second to none and they will, by definition, be younger. This is just one young applicant for fostering whose experiences are illuminating (names changed to protect identity) –
“Susie Walters, is 23 and going through the application process with her boyfriend, says she can’t wait to start. Susie’s motivation was her own mother. “She has been a carer for over thirty-two years, which means I was brought up alongside lots of children. My sister and I loved always having someone to live with.”
Understanding such perceptions and experiences of care provision could mean recruitment messages could be refined. A nationwide public awareness campaign could be tailored which would be expensive, but the social costs of running out of foster carers in the long term could be enormous. More than anything, such a campaign could at least create awareness amongst people under thirty that becoming foster carers is something well worth considering. At any rate the challenge for both local authorities and independent fostering agencies is going to be to find applicants who are younger. This needs to be done as a matter of priority as they will not have the years of experience that retiring carers will have accrued. This means there will be a knowledge and experience deficit. The longer this is not addressed, the stiffer the challenge becomes. This is why a generously funded public awareness campaign could be of such value. If it was targeted on jobs that young people might have which will give them relevant experience – such as classroom assistants or youth support workers – this could yield a substantial number of new applicants. It would also be necessary for training courses to be tailored more for younger people. When it is considered that 65% of children coming into care are suffering from trauma caused by abuse or neglect, it is obvious that any training will have to be of an exceptional standard and appropriate for younger applicants. One of the benefits for younger people already working with children is that it can be shown that they can build a career in fostering which; apart from the rewards of changing young vulnerable lives, will also lead to monetary reward. Today, skilled therapeutically trained carers can earn as much as £40k a year. This means that for any young person considering fostering children as a career, the rewards can be judged to be significant. It will be necessary to adapt the messages in a campaign as very young carers would possibly find it too much of a challenge to be looking after teenagers. If people aged over thirty and under forty could be successfully recruited, this could offer a real advantage in relation to finding the homes for teenagers which are sorely needed. This would be that carers in this age bracket would be closer to teenagers in terms of experience and youth culture which could make these placements more successful.
Fostering Care Fortnight is coming soon – 14th to the 26th May: #changeafuture.
If you are reading this blog and want to know more about this special annual event, there is more information available at https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/fcf19 If you are care experienced or a foster carer, there are a lot of different things you can do. As the charity says:
“We believe that foster care changes futures – the futures of fostered children and young people and the futures of the families who care for them. Have you ever had a moment in your life which you can look back on and see that your future changed at that time? Perhaps it was a teacher telling you that you were really good at something that is now your career? Or a relationship which led you to move? Or a trip overseas which gave you a different outlook on life? What was your moment? Fostering has the potential to be life-changing for fostered children and young people.”
Referrals and ‘word of mouth’ are both excellent ways for us to attract existing carers or new applicants into fostering. We know that being a carer brings a great many rewards. We have a big heart at Rainbow and we value highly all our carers. And our carers are excellent ambassadors for fostering because they have such amazing experience. We run regular coffee mornings and would be delighted to see you and anyone you wish to bring who might be interested in fostering children. And remember, any one of our carers who refers a friend of theirs to us will receive ‘Rainbow Bonus’ of £500 once that person has accepted their first placement.
Team Rainbow is waiting for your call.
Call us on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845 to have a ‘no-obligation’ chat about fostering children. If you are already working as a carer through an agency or local authority and would like to hear more about the benefits of moving to Rainbow, call for details of the bonus scheme we have. there is more information on this at –
If you have more general questions such as what benefits can I claim as a foster carer? How do you foster in the UK? What are the different types of fostering? Or how do I apply to foster a child?
We have answers to these and many more questions on our Freqently Asked Questions (FAQs) Page – visit this at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/
We look forward to hearing from you soon.