The Fostering Network is the country’s leading foster care charity: part of its annual survey this year was to discover which types of foster placements were in greatest demand. There was relatively little surprise that finding carers for teenagers and sibling groups topped the poll; what caused something of a stir, however, was that parent and child foster care placements were third in terms of demand. As the year draws to an end, there is still a shortage of some 7,000 new foster families. This means it is going to continue to be a real challenge to find carers to specialise in these particular areas. Fifty seven per cent of fostering services recently reported looking for more foster carers to address the demand for parent and child placements. Typically, this is for a young mother and her baby or toddler: Jackie Sanders, director of communications for The Fostering Network, stated that demand for this type of specialist placement may be rising due to the fact that other forms of help – supported lodgings and residential mother and baby units – have disappeared largely due to ‘Austerity’. She also commented earlier this year that –
“There is more of a push to keep children with their families in this way,” she says. “These foster carers look after young mothers – or sometimes fathers – who are experiencing difficulties.” They help them to develop parenting abilities and, hopefully, keep the parent and the child together in the longer term.”
One of the main drivers for the increase in demand was due to a number of worrying cases in the past. This means that if children’s services are worried about the safety of a baby or infant, they will move quickly to find a placement. This gives them time to conduct further investigations whilst the parent and child are in placement. These are usually carried out over a period – usually of around twelve weeks. Carers who take on parent and child foster placements will have received additional training. There are unique factors: foster carers need to provide support and guidance to a young person so that they can develop a relationship with their infant. This isn’t always easy: a young mother may find it difficult to take on the responsibility, or be disinclined to engage with her own child. They will not have parenting skills so the role of the foster carer is to provide support – but to also know when to take a step back. It can be a real advantage for a foster carer, if they have had the experience of raising their own children. The part the carer plays can be crucial in relation to enabling a family to stay together: Jackie Sanders from the Network, also said –
“They (foster carers) help them (parents) to develop parenting abilities and, hopefully, keep the parent and the child together in the longer term.”
As far back as 2008, councils began choosing to place parents and their children with foster carers, rather than in family centres for assessment. In October of the previous year, the Legal Services Commission introduced significant changes to the legal aid funding for parents caught up in care proceedings. Significantly, this included an end to the funding for placements in family assessment centres which were often used by the courts to assess parents’ parenting abilities. Where decisions were being made; either by a council or a court, that such a placement was required, the costs had to be met by the local authority concerned. Back then, these costs could range anywhere between £32,000 to £60,000 for the standard three month period. Such charges posed serious financial implications for councils. When considered that the weekly cost was around £500 for a parent and child to be accommodated in a foster carer’s home, it is obvious why many councils were attracted to this alternative. This was especially the case as in some instances, the parent and child concerned remained longer than three months in the family assessment centre. Understandably; from a council’s perspective, the foster care option has gained in popularity and this has fuelled demand.
Accepting a parent – as well as their child into their home – can place significant demands on a foster carer. There can be a lot of emotional issues, but such a family setting really can bring tangible benefits for the parents and their children. When the foster carer has real skill and experience, the outcomes can be extremely positive for all concerned.
One of the major differences between parent and child fostering as distinct from other kinds of fostering, involves assessments. Foster carers must record their observations of the parent on a daily basis. The parents, at the start of the placement, are made aware that the foster carer plays a key role in the assessment process. This means that the stakes can be high with the potential to create tension in the family setting. Foster carers share their records with the parents – this is to make sure that contradictions do not arise if there are further court proceedings. The parents also sign the records and they are given an opportunity to record their views as well. The records that a foster carer takes become a key part of the social workers overall assessment and are used in court. A foster carer may also be required to give evidence in court: this can be stressful – especially as the parent and child will have been living with them for a number of weeks.
Foster carers who work in this area require strong observational skills. They need to have an idea of the overall picture and assess the developing relationship between the parent and child. They need to consider how the child reacts to the parent in everyday settings – as well as how the parent interacts with their own child. A foster carer will need to be a good teacher and pass on their own parenting skills. They need to be able to build the confidence of a young parent, so that they feel in control and able to care for their child. These are not inconsiderable skills when it is considered that a parent and child may well have arrived from a disrupted and chaotic home life. And this is alongside the added pressure of having become a recent parent. A foster carer needs to have a sense of detachment as placements of this type tend to be short term. They still need to be able to nurture and promote the bond between the parent and the baby as this is vital. It can be a tricky balancing act as the foster carer is required to simultaneously make sure that the needs of the child are met, whilst encouraging the parent to develop the skills they will need to care for their infant.
The nature of parent and child placements is also changing. The stereotype is that of the young teenage mother (although sometimes it can be just the father), struggling to care for a baby. It is not uncommon now for older mothers – sometimes in their thirties and forties to be placed into a foster care setting. This means that mothers can be a mix of ages and have been affected by a range of conditions. These can include drug and alcohol problems as well as coping with mental health issues.
Someone deciding to specialise in parent and child foster care placements will need to have had preparation and extended training to cope with the additional pressures. It has to be said that on the other side of the coin, a foster carer can play the lead role in enabling a young family to stay together. This is a rewarding and unique accomplishment.
Could you meet the challenge and be a foster carer in 2018?
Whatever your religion, background or personal situation, we would be delighted to speak with you if you are interested in becoming a foster carer. We are particularly keen to talk to people who are interested in providing care for a vulnerable parent and child. These are specialist placements, but they can certainly be most rewarding. The training we provide is second to none, and the support we offer is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
We are happy to answer any general questions you might have about foster care. If you are interested in parent and child foster care as a way of building a career in fostering, we can advise on all its aspects including:
Thinking of transferring?
If you are already an approved carer (already with a long term foster placement), and considering transferring to another service provider, we can make the process smooth and stress free. When you join Rainbow Fostering, you may be eligible for a special ‘Rainbow Reward’ bonus – please call for details on 020 8427 3355. We are also happy to pay a bonus of £500 if you are fostering and in a position to refer a friend/relative to become a foster carer. Once their first placement has been made, following your referral, you will receive the bonus.
Foster care news stories
Visit our informative news section at
here you will be able to catch up on a range of stories about the world of foster care
And the good news at the end of this November fostering Rainbow…the rehearsals for our ‘talent spots’ at our forthcoming 2017 ‘Foster Carer Awards’ are progressing extremely well: a treat in store for all – please make sure you respond to our invitations as soon as possible.