On the way to becoming an approved foster carer, a health and safety check will have been made on your home environment. Once you are fostering, it is important to continue to consider safety in all its aspects. There are a number of things to keep in mind to reduce risks at home and when away from home. We have listed areas that can present dangers along with sensible precautions that can be taken.
Because it is impossible to predict when an accident may occur, it is always wise to have a First Aid Kit to hand. This will mean you can deal with minor injuries – as long as it is well stocked. Keep it locked away in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children.
A basic first aid kit should contain:
- Plasters in a variety of different shapes and sizes
- sterile gauze dressings: small, medium and large
- at least two sterile eye dressings
- crepe rolled bandages
- triangular bandages
- disposable sterile gloves
- safety pins
- a digital thermometer
- creams for skin rash; such as hydrocortisone or calendula
- antiseptic cream
- cream to treat insect bites/stings
- painkillers such as paracetamol (infant paracetamol for children) , ibuprofen, or aspirin - not to be given to children under 16
- cough medicine
- antihistamine tablets
- distilled water for cleaning wounds
- Eye wash and eye bath
Remember to replace items that have been used. Keep a regular check on medicines to ensure they are within their use-by dates. You might consider keeping a basic first aid manual with your kit.
Even better – consider enrolling on a first aid course. It can be a good idea, as well, to keep a small first aid kit in your car for emergencies away from home.
RISKS IN THE HOME
Chemicals: It is a worrying thought, but around 500 children under the age of five are rushed to hospital because it is suspected they might have swallowed something toxic. It is very important to keep all cleaning products, household chemicals as well as medicines out of the reach of children. They should be stored in a cupboard with a child resistant catch. Do not leave cleaning chemicals in the toilet or bathroom. And remember gardening chemicals, such as weed killers and pest control products which can be extremely poisonous – such things should also be kept under lock and key.
If you have foster children in your care, it is important to also be aware of the dangers of electricity. All wires and cords should be kept out of reach – particularly those that are attached to things that can become very hot, such as irons, kettles and hairdryers: appliances such as these should always be turned off when not in use. Drinks, or any other forms of liquid should be kept well away from general electrical appliances such as DVD players, music stereos, a televison, vacuum cleaners or computers.
Prevention is a good idea: consider having RCD (residual current device) protection. This is a life-saving device which protects against fatal electric shocks if you touch something live. It can also provide some protection against electrical fires. RCD’s offer a level of protection that ordinary fuses and circuit-breakers cannot provide. Do make sure that a child or young person is completely dry after a bath or shower before using any electrical appliance.
Burns from hot objects/surfaces/heating systems
Many objects simply do not appear hot – such as an iron, car exhaust or hair tongs. Boiling water or hot food can also scald. Care should always be taken in the kitchen by ensuring the handles of pans are not left hanging over the edge of a cooker or worktop. If you have a very young child – or a number of children (if caring for a sibling group) it may be advisable not to have them in the kitchen whilst you are cooking. Hot water pipes connecting to radiators can also get extremely hot and it is always advisable to have a fire guard in place if you have an open fire.
There is research that shows two-thirds of Britons do not follow basic hygiene. A past survey has revealed that many people do not wash their hands after using the toilet or coughing and sneezing. Nearly a quarter of people who own pets will handle food after stroking their animals without first washing their hands thoroughly. Germs can be spread from person to person through direct contact, or indirectly from unclean surfaces such as worktops and floors. It is important to encourage children/young people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap – certainly before meals. Remember, childrens’ toys should be regularly cleaned and soft toys put in the wash at regular intervals. It is particularly important that food preparation surfaces are always kept hygienically clean. Areas around sinks should be thoroughly cleaned after washing poultry and raw meat. Good hygiene practice in the home can prevent the spread of infections through the wider community – so everyone benefits.
Children will get minor cuts, bruises and grazes from time to time. If you are fostering a child, you need to be aware that sharp object such as knives and scissors should always be kept well out of reach. It is also advisable to keep glassware locked away. Razorblades should be kept in a cabinet and used blades should be discarded after use. In some households, sharps are used (needles for self administered injections) a special yellow container for their disposal is available for safe disposal and this should always be used. Care should be taken in the garden with sharp tools such as shears and secateurs being locked away. It is a good idea if you are fostering very young children to have a lawnmower that uses plastic replaceable blades.
Pets in the Home
If you have pets, good hygiene is very important which means washing hands after handling animals – especially before meals. There are certain specific risks such as Toxoplasmosis and Salmonella: these are two examples of infections which can be passed on to humans through poor hygiene around contact with animals. Pets should be wormed regularly and their vaccinations kept up-to-date. If a dog is in the home, it should be exercised regularly and remember dogs can become very jealous around children.
It is important not to leave clutter at the top of the stairs. This is an important safety point as someone of any age can trip. If you are fostering very young children, it is a very good safety measure to install a stair gate. Remember, very young children can move around surprisingly quickly even before they are walking properly. A spare stair gate can also be used to keep young children out of the kitchen.
Water is very attractive to children of all ages – especially when weather is hot and sunny. This makes it potentially very hazardous when children are left unsupervised. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for youngsters aged between 5 and 24. All children should be encouraged to learn to swim – especially as it is such good exercise. Water wherever it is – ponds, lakes, rivers, reservoirs or the sea should always be regarded as potentially hazardous. Children should always be monitored when in such environments: it is important to remember it doesn’t take much water to present a significant risk, especially where very young children are concerned. Paddling pools should always be drained after use, and a garden pond of whatever size should always be fenced off and made inaccessible if very young children are being fostered.
Young people now spend a great deal of time online: rapid advances in technology means they can now access the internet from a variety of devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops even games consoles. The idea of children solely accessing the internet on a family computer at home no longer applies which makes supervision extremely difficult. There are great benefits from the internet – children can explore, socialise, have fun and learn, but there are also significant risks such a cyberbullying, being exposed to inappropriate content, being groomed for sexual abuse or losing control to gambling.
It is possible to set up parental controls on a computer, but there are other devices that enable access to the internet away from the family home. The best approach is to have an honest family discussion outlining the dangers and risks. It is important to stress that people online may not be who they seem. Discuss with your child/young person what is meant by ‘stranger danger’ and why they should never share personal information such as pictures or their contact and address details. This is a good subject around which to develop ideas of personal responsibility and awareness. There are some excellent websites you can visit enabling you to have full discussion about all the issues involved.
If suspicious, you can report online abuse to CEOP (Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre – internet safety) https://ceop.police.uk
Prevention is always best, but no environment is risk free – so preparation is a good idea. emergency phone numbers should always be at hand: programming them into your mobile phone is a sensible step. It is also a good idea to have them written down in a book that is always kept by the house phone. Numbers should be easy to read for children as well adults. Foster carers should instruct older children how to make a call if the need for help arises. It may be your foster child or young person is placed in respite care for a few days; having a copy of important contact numbers for another carer is a good idea.
Always remember the home you provide a foster child or young person is an enormously influential place. Teenagers, particularly, are very impressionable, which means if you smoke or drink, it is sensible to keep cigarettes and alcohol locked away. A lighter or matches can also be attractive to very young children and should never be left within their reach. There is evidence to show that second hand cigarette smoke can affect the development of children. If you smoke, it is important you do so well away from the young person in your care.
"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."