Did you know there is a shortage of foster carers in this country? This is particularly relevant where I live in Bracknell, with 60% of the children having to be fostered outside of the area. Sadly, the number of children needing foster care is also growing each year.
Foster carers or foster parents, if you haven’t heard of the term before are people who take in and care for children whose family cannot care for them at the present time for various reasons.
Keeping children in the local area is really important, it means children can continue to go to the same school, see their friends and also keep in touch with their birth families. Something so important for the mental health and overall well-being.
This month, I am working with Bracknell Forest Council to answer all of your questions on fostering for Foster Care Fortnight. We want to encourage more people to consider fostering, in order to help local children out. But, also after this very difficult year and people reconsidering their work-life balance, to realise that it can be a very worthwhile career choice too.
Things you Need to be a Foster Carer
Let’s start with the things you need in order to become a foster carer.
- A spare bedroom – this can be a converted garage or loft
- You can rent, you do not have to own your own home
- Some childcare experience – but you do not have to be a parent. In-depth training is provided
- Time to devote to a child, you can still work part time though
- You will have to complete police and local authority checks
- You will have to complete a medical – but this is only to rule out severe issues
- You have to be over 21, but there is no upper age limit. So, your children could have left home
- If you pass all of the above, then you will have to complete an assessment process which usually take 6 months in total
There are several types of fostering:
- Short term fostering – looking after a child for a period of time – a couple of nights to two years
- Short break care – helping to ease the pressure of parents with children with additional needs anything for a few hours a week to one or two weekends a month
- Long term fostering – sometimes children are not able to return to their families. With older children adoption may not be appropriate, long term fostering gives a child a safe place to grow up in while keeping in contact with their birth family
- Respite fostering – regularly supporting other foster carers caring a child for a short period of time such as a weekend
- Parent and child fostering – supporting the mother or father of a young child and their child who is going through difficulties
- Supported lodgings – providing a safe and supportive environment for children aged 16-18 years old so they can develop the skills to live independently
- Emergency placement – occasionally emergency placements are needed at short notice which may be for one night upwards
How Much Money can I Earn as a Foster Carer?
The answer is it depends. It depends on the age of the child, your experience (more pay is provided for additional childcare training), your pay varies on the age of the child too. There is also additional pay for caring for a child with additional needs.
Foster carer payments are made up of 2 parts:
- an allowance to cover the cost of caring for a child – such as for food, clothing, transport, pocket money and activities
- a professional fee to reward foster carers for caring for a vulnerable child
You can find full details on the Bracknell Council’s Fostering page, along with a useful allowance calculator. But you can earn circa £20k which is paid tax-free.
Your Questions on Fostering Answered
Have you considered fostering but are really not sure? Do you have burning questions but are worried about something?
I have put together a collection of questions below, some sent in by my social media followers and some I have written myself. Hopefully they will help you if you are undecided about becoming a foster carer. But if there is a question not covered here, then leave one in the comments below and I will endeavour to get the answer for you. They have been answers by the Bracknell fostering team and a below I have an interview lovely local foster parent who has shared their experience.
Q & A with the Bracknell Fostering Team
Thanks to the Bracknell Fostering team for answering questions for us.
- I’m single can I foster?
Yes absolutely, we have many single foster carers. The focus is more on your previous childcare experience.
- Can you be a foster carer if you smoke?
Yes, however our smoking policy precludes anyone who smokes or vapes from caring for under 5s and we would expect the foster carers to smoke outside of the home and out of sight of the children. They would also need to promote healthy lifestyle choices to children, which would include the harms of smoking.
- What medical health conditions would mean you cannot foster?
There is not a full list of medical conditions; it generally depends on the severity of a condition, how well it is managed and how much it impacts that person on a day-to-day basis. All prospective carers are asked to have a medical at their GP and this report is reviewed by our Independent Medical Officer who gives a professional opinionon the results during the first stage of the assessment.
- What is your LGBTQ+ policy. Can gay and lesbian couples foster?
Yes absolutely, we actively encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to foster and have a same-sex couple that currently foster for us. We adhere to the Equality Act 2010, everybody has a right to be assessed equally. We actively encourage people from diverse backgrounds to get in touch and apply, as we have a very diverse range of children that become looked after.
- We are a trans family and would lovely to foster. Particularly trans children who may have been rejected by their families. Can trans parents foster?
Yes, we are fully inclusive. Children come into care for many reasons, the most common being abuse and neglect so we would look for people who can demonstrate they can meet the needs of a variety of children. The assessment also looks at the impact fostering will have on the applicants and their own family, and when children are matched there is a detailed matching exercise.
- We home-school are own children. Would this be a barrier to fostering? Would we be able to home-school the foster children too or would they need to attend state schools?
Home schooling your own children would not be a barrier to fostering. All foster carers need to balance any existing commitments with fostering tasks such as meetings and training. Home schooling may be appropriate for some foster children; indeed, some children may be out of school. However, decisions around education are made by the team around the child, considering the young person’s wishes. The expectation would be that the foster child is in school where possible for social reasons as much as for their education and where a child is already settled in a school, we would ask the foster carer to support with keeping he/she in that setting, as well as providing transport to their school where needed.
- Can you foster if you have pets?
Yes, many foster carers have pets. There is a pet assessment in the first stage of the assessment process to review how the pets are cared for and to ensure they are likely to be safe around children. The only exception is dog breeds listed on the Dangerous Dogs Act.
- Can you take foster children on holiday with you as a family?
You can and this is often a lovely experience for children looked after. As parents retain parental responsibility, their consent is sought, and passport applications are made by Bracknell Forest Council if needed.
Q & A with Foster Parent Sam Broomfield
Lots of thanks to Sam Broomfield, a foster carer for for sharing their experience of what it’s like to do this very worthwhile vocation.
- Tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to foster
We are a family of four with myself, my partner and our two teenage children aged 15 and 17. When our children were born, I wanted to stay at home and look after them, so I gave up my career. I then became interested in looking after children after I had babysat for a few friends’ children. With the support from my partner and family, I decided to set up a childminding business from home and have cared for many wonderful children and their families for the last 13 years. However, I wanted to do more, so my partner and I discussed becoming foster carers over several years; we both agreed we wanted to provide a safe and stable home for vulnerable children. We discussed the possibility of becoming a foster family with our two children and it was a unanimous decision that it was the next step for us. Luckily, we were then able to extend our house and build a spare bedroom, and as the builders started, we made some phone calls and started the foster carers assessment process with Bracknell Forest Council. We have been fostering for two years.
- A lot of people worry about the impact fostering would have on their own children. That they would be resentful of the time and attention the foster children received, negative behaviours they might encounter. How do you manage this?
We had been looking after young children for many years, so we were used to a busy house and meeting lots of children’s needs. However, we did at first worry about the impact foster children would have on our own children. Would negative behaviour effect our own children? However, we found it has brought us closer together as a family, our children understand that some children can have a difficult start in life, and it has made them better people. Having our own children at home has helped new children arriving, as boundaries and routines are already in place. We have family discussions together and that includes the foster children, and everyone gets to say their point of view. Every child is treated equally, we are a family. We have found having foster children younger than our own son works better for us.
- What is the most rewarding things about being a foster carer?
The most rewarding thing about being a foster carer is seeing the children thrive in our care and making a positive difference to each one of them. We feel blessed to have been part of their lives and have enjoyed giving them all the love and support they need while they are with us.
- What have you found to be the greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge has been learning to be more patient when waiting for decisions to be made by the people in authority. Many professionals are involved in each foster child’s life and sometimes you must wait a while for some important questions to be answered.
- Is the financial compensation enough to cover the children’s expenses or do you find yourself out of pocket?
We have found the financial compensation is enough to cover all the children’s expenses.
- How have your wider families reacted to your foster children, are they accepted by grandparents, aunts and uncles?
Our family and friends are a fantastic support for us and have welcomed each foster child the same as our own. We have had wonderful weekends away (pre-Covid) where we are all invited to family gatherings, and my own parents have been more than happy to babysit our children along with the foster children, even when we had a foster baby that was not sleeping through the night!
- How do you cope with children who have mental health problems because of the difficult life they have lived? How do you manage the impact this has on your home?
Many foster children have had difficult lives, as a family we listen and offer as much support as we can. The foster children have found our own children to be great mentors as they are older and have developed good friendships with them. We have received amazing support from our supervising social worker, who would take our children out for dinner, to the driving range and offer great support if they needed to talk. We have also received great support from the children’s schools and have found the schools offer great support for foster children and help to manage mental health problems during school hours and at home.
- If you could offer one piece of advice to someone considering fostering what would it be?
If you are considering fostering, then go for it! We love it and wish we had started years ago. If you have your own children at home, involve them in each decision you make along the way.