There is a tremendous need to find new foster families so it will be obvious that finding foster carers to look after children with disabilities is an especially daunting challenge. Perhaps the first step is to think about what we all associate with the word disability. Just thinking about the term will bring a whole set of associations to mind. For all disabled people – including children and young people – it is being labelled ‘disabled’ that creates barriers. The label itself triggers images and emotions within us that shape our responses – and that is before we might have even met someone with a disability. Images offoster a disabled child wheelchairs can all to easily spring to mind but of course there are a wide range of different kinds of disability ranging from moderate to severe. It may seem trite, but it is perhaps best to simply start by thinking of people as people – and we all have needs at various times in our lives. So the process of identification and empathy can be all important. Thinking in this way is perhaps the first step when considering specialising in fostering a disabled child. The idea can seem daunting and there will be distinct challenges however the rewards can be considerable. Helping a disabled child to achieve their full potential can be life changing for the foster carer as well as for the child. Fostering children with disabilities will call for patience and emotional resilience and it is obvious that additional care, love and affection need to be shown. It is still, however, important to be able to set boundaries – always so important in creating a sense of security and stability.

Some facts about disabled children in the care system
  • Around a quarter of all looked after children are disabled.
  • Children with learning difficulties are the children it is hardest to find permanent families for
  • Many disabled children hoping for permanent placements are under the age of five and of these two-thirds are boys , and most are white.
  • Children with disabilities are more likely than non-disabled children to be looked after by single carers.
  • Children with disabilities are nine times more likely to become looked after children than non-disabled children.

On a practical level there is plenty of additional training and ongoing support available for foster carers. All disabled children are regarded as ‘children in need’ which means they will qualify for a range of services and allowances deemed appropriate for their particular needs. This can include the provision of specialist equipment. In certain cases changes may need to be made to the accommodation such as modifying a downstairs bedroom, bathroom or toilet.

More generally, there is an urgent need to find people with special qualities interested in caring for children and young people with health issues. These can cover ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, learning difficulties, hearing and/or visual impairments through to children with physical disabilities or life-limiting conditions. Foster carers need to be motivated and dedicated to help a disabled child to reach their full potential. It will be necessary to attend training sessions in topics such as manual moving and handling as caring for a disabled child can make daily parenting routines more challenging. These can include basic things like feeding, toilet training and helping children to sleep as well as assistance with medication and care routines. A disabled child may experience particular difficulties with feeding and eating for a variety of reasons that can include: physical problems causing difficulty in swallowing, chewing and digesting particular foods, limited mobility – making sitting up to eat or drink harder. Foster carers looking after a disabled children will see their skill, knowledge and experience will grow considerably. This is because there is ongoing contact with a range of health professionals providing specialist support. These can include speech and language therapists providing guidance on physical issues which could include chewing and swallowing; occupational therapists who provide advice on aids that can assist with eating – including special cutlery, plates and bowls and also physiotherapists who can help children to sit comfortably whilst they are eating.

Education

A local authority has by law to carry out all its duties with regard to children and young people in its area with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disabilities. This is under Part 3 of the “Children and Families Act 2014” with the view of helping them “achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes” This means there will be support available to assist children with SEN and/or disabilities to have support and get as much as possible from the education system.

Support

We ensure that foster carers will be given short respite breaks meaning they can benefit from a rest from the daily routines. This can be while the child is looked after by another specialist carer, or they may have a break with the child in their care whilst at a special residential unit for disabled children. At Rainbow Fostering we work hard to direct our carers to the various support groups and service providers that may be able to assist. As an example: if your water is metered and the child or young person being looked after results in the need to do a lot of laundry, we can help you to apply to your water company to limit the cost of your water. This comes under the WaterSure scheme and Ofwat has the contact details for water suppliers. The Family Fund is also able to give grants to low-income families for a washing machine or tumble drier. It may be that a child has to be fed through a tube that enters directly into their stomach. This may be needed on a temporary basis or permanently – advice is available from the support group PINNT (Patients on Intravenous and Naso-gastric and Nutrition Therapy).

Groups, Information and Useful Resources

There are a number of specific charities, including MENCAP, which provide information and support. There are also a growing number of online communities offering advice and information. The BBC’s disability website Ouch! provides the chance to share experiences and and exchange knowledge with other parents.

The charity Whizz-Kidz often provides children under 18 with mobility equipment not available from the National Health service. They also offer wheelchair skills training.

Action for Children
  • Go Kids Go! give free wheelchair skills courses.
  • Sky Badger This is a charity dedicated to finding help and adventure for disabled children and their families.
  • Help if you have a disabled child - GOV.UK

We have wide experience in supporting disabled children and young people with complex needs. We ensure that our foster carers get support and consultancy regarding any need for specialist equipment that may be required. At Rainbow we will provide tailored training in the care of disabled children and young people in key areas such as feeding, behaviour, sleep, coping strategies and more generally where there are challenging behaviours – training in Adolescent, Self-Regulation and Competency (ARC model)

At Rainbow we say ‘Open your heart and open your home…as we aim to recruit foster carers who want to respond to the very specific challenges of looking after disabled children, perhaps we should add ‘open your mind’… if you would like to learn more about fostering children with disabilities and the training and support we can provide, call or email the Rainbow Team.

Just think, it could be you making all the difference to the life of a child or young person with a disability.

TESTIMONIALS

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"My link worker has been very helpful, she is easy to talk to and reliable."

"I enjoy being a foster carer, I find it very fulfilling."

"The reward has been from my foster child seeing her blossom and flourish."