When people find out I foster, I almost always get the following statement: ‘I’d love to foster but I couldn’t because of…insert a common misconception here’.
Some of the questions I’ve been asked are:
- Is age an issue?
- Can I foster a child if I don’t own my own home?
- But I don’t have a car, can I be a foster carer?
- What about if I’m in a same sex relationship, can we foster?
- I’m single
- I’m disabled
- I have a criminal record
- And the most common one is can I foster if I haven’t had my own children/?
As long as you are over 23 years old and have some life experience, age is not an issue. Many exceptional foster carers are retired and I recently met a couple in their 70’s who foster three disabled children. Their own children are long married with families and Jenny and Mark felt that their journey with children was not over. They took their years of experience and presented a skill set perfect for the children they look after. In the document The Age of Foster Care by Helen Clarke, she notes that older foster carers are able to bring considerable experience and expertise to their role. Her findings show that approximately 37% of foster carers come in the 50-59 age bracket,with 28% being 40-49 and the next largest group are 60+ [i]
As long as you can provide a safe home and environment for a child, you don’t need to own your own home. If you rent you will need to provide a copy of your rental agreement and if you own your accommodation, a mortgage statement is normally enough evidence. It doesn’t matter if your home is a flat, house, cottage or doesn’t have a garden, however you do need to have a spare room. I would suggest that if you are planning to move or do major renovations, do this before you apply to foster or discuss when you enquire.
A common misconception is that you must have a vehicle to foster. Certainly it helps and it can be more convenient for appointments, contact visits with family and general running around that occurs when you have a child or young person in the house. It is not a legal requirement and I know foster carers in large cities where a car is a hindrance and public transport is king. The only consideration is can you can meet the needs of the child? It might mean that not every placement is suitable for you.
Same sex relationship
Being in a same sex relationship has no bearing on your ability to foster. All that matters is that you can provide a safe, positive home for a child.
Single carer/single male carer
Again, being single makes no difference to whether you are eligible to foster. Single men can be carers and you must show evidence during the assessment process that you can be a suitable carer. If you work then an understanding and flexible employer is a must. Certain placements may not be suitable for a single/male carer if it is felt the child would benefit from a two parent environment or a female carer.
I am Disabled
Like all potential applicants you must meet the criteria and will need to have a medical with your GP. A carer with a disability may be able to bring their personal experiences to being a carer and it worth discussing your circumstances when you start your enquiry.
I have a criminal record
All applicants must have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check but having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you unless the conviction is an offence against a child or was violent in nature. It is important you discuss any criminal record before you start the assessment process as if it comes to light during the process without being declared by yourself, it is unlikely your application will proceed. Be honest and straightforward.
I have my own children at home/I have never had children
Fostering a child with your own children at home can be hugely beneficial and rewarding for your birth children as well as the children you foster. It is a big decision for all the family to undertake and will impact on family life so discussing it with your own children is essential. Most people wait until their youngest child is at least 1 year old before considering fostering.
Having had children of your own is not a condition for fostering however you should be comfortable, confident and experienced with children. I met Amit and Varsha in my Skills to Foster training course who felt their years of experience with children in the family made them perfect for fostering. They have successfully fostered many children who have benefited from being the only child in their household.
Other common fostering myths
- Pets: animals in the household can be hugely beneficial to children in care but may limit what placements you can take
- English as a first language: English does not have to be your first language but you should be able to speak/write on behalf of a child. You will also need to record the child’s progress on a daily basis. Discuss this when you enquire as help improving your language skills is widely available.
- Claiming benefits: Claiming benefits will not automatically exclude you and households often remain eligible for benefits regardless of fostering income. All circumstances are individual and you should discuss this when enquiring.
- Religion: If you are not religious you must consider the impact on your household if you had a child with religious beliefs. If you are religious, how will having a child of a different religion impact on you? You must be prepared to discuss this during your assessment. Foster carers should be tolerant, non judgemental and accept that a child may come from a different religion or cultural background.
Would you like to foster? Think about the circumstances in your life and whether you could open your home to a child. If you think this is something you and your family could do, have an informal chat with one of our team on 0800 389 0143.
[i] i Clarke, H. (2009) The Age of Foster Care. London: The Fostering Network.