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A moment in time

What does a moment in time mean to most of us? It may mean a person’s whole life time or it may mean precisely what you see in a photograph. The picture looks like a mother and son enjoying a day out at the seaside.  In fact what you see is a foster mother and her foster son doing exactly that.  For my lad every day is a moment in time, every day is not knowing if this will be his forever family, every day is deciding who he can trust to keep him safe.

This is the journey that my husband and I started with him nearly 3 yrs ago.  When someone says to us ‘I admire you for doing what you’re doing, they are damaged children, I don’t know if I could do it’. I have to remind them that it was an adult that damaged these children and it is adults that need to help them heal.  We don’t need admiration, all we want is for the children who come into our lives to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

We decided to foster about 5 years ago, we started our journey with an interview in our home. Then we attended a skills to foster course and over those three days we got a better insight into the life of foster carers and the children that come into the care system.  Once we decided that this was what we wanted we went through a 6 month assessment with our assessor and sat in front of a panel of about 15 people awaiting our fate.  I have to say I burst into tears when they said yes, the build-up of emotions was overwhelming.

Our lad was our 2nd placement, he was with us for 2 weeks respite but sadly was not able to return to his previous carer.  After 8 weeks with us the council wanted to move him, he was distraught as he had attached to us and us to him.  In the end with the help of an advocate the council gave in and let him stay.

So almost 3 years on we are a family.  Every day has it challenges but we work together to make sure that he feels safe and secure and that every moment in time counts.

I am happy to talk to anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer.  It really is a life changing experience.

Irene is a foster carer with GLF.

To find out how you can start your journey download our guide

Fostering – What’s Stopping You?

The decision to become a foster carer isn’t an easy one to make. Fostering will have an impact on not only the child in care, but your life and your family’s life too. There’s a lot to think about so it’s natural to have concerns. Every day I talk to people who are interested in fostering and there seems to be a certain level of reluctance to ask certain questions. Maybe they think it’s cheeky to ask about money? Maybe they don’t want to appear like they couldn’t manage if they were to foster.

How will your family feel about sharing their home with someone they don’t know? How will you fit in the endless meetings, contact and school-run alongside your own career? What if the child you foster doesn’t like you? There is a lot to think about. So let’s talk about what’s stopping you from fostering…

Money, money, money  

Feel like money could be a problem? Nobody fosters for the money, but the extra income you get a carer certainly helps. Part of the decision to foster should be to consider how it will affect the level of income you’ll be receiving. It might be the case that you decide to reduce your contract, to work part time. Foster carers should be financially stable without the fostering allowance. That’s why many of our carers continue to work part time or full time.

Think you can’t foster because you work? Ultimately, we ask that our carers are financially stable without the fostering allowance they receive. A lot of our foster carers continue to work, either full time or part time. It’s just important that you have a support network of family and friends who can help you.

Help (I need somebody)

Feel like you won’t be able to manage on your own? The short answer is we don’t expect you to! When you become a foster carer, you will be assigned a social worker, who will support you throughout your fostering experience. GLF also runs regular support groups and training courses.

You might be worrying about whether you meet our requirements. When it comes to the things that are a definite ‘no, you can’t foster’, there aren’t as many as you might think.

Whats love got to do with it?

Think you can’t foster because you’re not in a relationship? You don’t have to be in a couple to foster. You can be married, in a long term relationship or single. Families come in all shapes and sizes, so you won’t be judged for the size of yours.

Think you can’t foster because you’re gay? It doesn’t matter if you are gay, lesbian, trans-gender or heterosexual. We live in a diverse culture and we want this to be reflected in our fostering community. Your sexuality really doesn’t matter to us. What’s important is the experience and support you can bring to your role as a foster carer.

Think you can’t foster because you’re too old or too young? You can become a foster carer if you are over 21 years old and there is no upper age limit. As long as you are fit and able enough to look after children, then you can foster.

There are thousands of children needing foster families. These children come from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, religions. We need foster carers to reflect this diversity. So, regardless of your age, ethnicity, employment or relationship status and as long as you have a spare room and the time, the reality is you could probably foster.

If you are thinking about it then get in touch, ask a question, start the journey. We’re ready and waiting for your questions!

Louise is a recruitment officer at Greater London Fostering.

Men Who Foster

Hello, my name is Asrat, I’m a male foster carer, when I became a carer I told my youngest brother about it and he said to me, when he thinks of fostering, older women or elderly retired couple come to his mind but he never thought younger single men would be interested or involved.

I think these sorts of views are expressed because it’s mistakenly believed that women are best suited to handle the challenges of fostering and naturally more caring than men. I believe men are equally capable of handling challenges and can be caring as well.

As a male foster carer since 2013 I have had challenging times which I have managed well and have also been providing very good care to my young person in care.

“Rewards and challenges are part and parcel of fostering”

I used to work at my local council before I became a foster carer. That is where I got involved with the council’s fostering office working with unaccompanied asylum seekers from different parts of the world. I came to know about fostering there and had a chance to work with some social workers. It was fulfilling and satisfying being able to help others. I decided to be a full time foster carer and opened my doors to a child to give him a warm and friendly home. Fostering is rewarding when I see the positive differences I made in a child’s life after he had stayed with me.  And it can also be challenging when a child, for different reasons doesn’t want to engage with me and refuses to be helped.

“My supervising social worker is a phone call away for any query I may have.”

Rewards and challenges are part and parcel of fostering. Fostering in my opinion is a noble profession because it involves shaping a child’s life into becoming a productive and successful citizen. It requires resilience and lots of patience. Thankfully I have GLF’s full support whenever I need it. I have been getting relevant training and my supervising social worker is a phone call away for any query I may have.

All in all, my fostering journey since 2013 has taught me some valuable lessons. I have learned to be more patient and understanding.  If there are any men out there wondering about fostering, I encourage you to consider it seriously, you will not be disappointed.

Think you’re too old or young to foster? Think again

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According to a 2013 survey by the charity Action for Children, over half the nation (54 per cent) think you won’t be approved for fostering if you are older than 55. Anne, a pensioner from Kent, knows better. She has been fostering through GLF for the last five years.

She said: ‘Children have played a big part of my adult life, but while my three kids weren’t yet ready to have children of their own, I felt I had a lot of love and experience to offer to a child that was just going to waste.’

At GLF we encourage foster applications from people of all ages – as long as you are able to commit to the responsibilities of fostering and answer the needs of a child we will consider your application.

So yes that means that just as there isn’t an upper age limit, the lower one is much lower than you think too – you must legally be older than 21, unless you have very special and rare circumstances, but that is where the restrictions end. Yet recent research showed that only 22 per cent of people under the age of 25 think they would even be accepted as foster carers. So the team at GLF were delighted for Stacey Heywood who was recently recognised in the 2016 Pride of Britain awards for becoming the UK’s youngest foster Mum at the age of 17. It proved to us what we have always known – that the love and dedication it takes to provide a safe and caring foster home is not age dependent.

Of course the different stages of life can bring with it different challenges – so if you have concerns that your health may not be what it once was, or at the other end of the spectrum, you’re not yet sure if you can offer a stable enough home, get in touch so we can talk through your individual case.

Returning to Anne in Kent, she added: ‘Sometimes people wonder why I want to foster children now that I am a pensioner and free from responsibility, but for me there couldn’t be a better moment. I have so much time and patience to offer since I’ve retired and that is what some children really need right now.’

I thought renting would count against me

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Sarah, 27 from Bromley, is typical of many young people in the UK. She works for a good firm but is stuck renting as she can’t raise the deposit she needs for a mortgage. While she is resigned to waiting to buy her own place, from a young age she has always wanted to look after children and didn’t want to put that dream on the back burner.

Sarah said: ‘I heard about fostering when I was at school and as I got older it began to feel like something I would be really good at. My life now is really stable – I have a great job, secure income and a lovely home – except it isn’t mine.’

The UK’s National Minimum Standards for Fostering asks for a foster child to have their own room, with few exceptions, and accommodation to be of a reasonable standard but makes no other stipulation about housing type. So as long as you have the space required and your landlord has given you approval to foster children in your home, your rental arrangements won’t prevent you from fostering. GLF can advise you on how best to broach the subject with your landlord if you’re worried that they might say no because they don’t properly understand what fostering entails.

It is important to remember though that while you will receive financial support from the government towards the cost of fostering children, fostering does not make you eligible for extra housing benefit. The good news though is that after a rethink the government will no longer apply the bedroom tax (officially known as the under occupancy penalty) to foster carers. This means that if you are in social housing and in receipt of housing benefit you will not have this payment reduced if you use one of the bedrooms for a foster child.

Sarah has now been approved to foster and looking forward to welcoming her first child into her home. ‘I might never be able to afford my own home but I’m so glad that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing fostering. I can’t wait to be a foster Mum.’