I am by no means an expert in fostering, what I do know is how many misconceptions there are about fostering and myths about who is eligible to foster.
The basics are simple. You need to be:
– 21 years old or older
– have a spare room
– a UK resident
However, there are a lot of factors involved and this is where sensationalist news headlines, public assumptions and myths can blur the lines:
Age. If you are over 21, age is not a barrier. There is no upper age limit to be able to foster. As long as you are in good health and are able to give time to a child in your care then you can continue fostering well into your 70’s.
Being a single foster carer. This is one of the biggest myths in fostering; you must be part of a couple. These days there is no ‘perfect’ picture of a family. If you can show you can be a suitable carer then being single makes no difference. This applies to single male or single female carers.
Same sex relationship. Your sexual orientation or being in a same sex relationship will have no bearing on you being a foster carer. All that matters are that you can provide a safe, loving and positive home for a child.
I have my own children at home. Fostering a child with your own children at home can be enormously positive and rewarding for your birth children as well children you foster. However, 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.
I don’t have my own children. Having had children is not a requirement to fostering. You will be asked during the assessment what experience you have with children. Experience may come from being actively involved with children in your family, a career or voluntary role working with children.
Religion. Being religious or having no religion will not impact on your ability to foster. How would you support a child that came into your home that was religious? You would need to understand the importance of observing religious rituals for the child and their family. An important question to consider is how will having a child of a different religion or no religion impact on you? Foster carers should be tolerant, non-judgemental and accept that a child may come from a different religion or cultural background.
English language. English does not have to be your first language nevertheless you should be able to speak and write on behalf of a child and be able to record the child’s progress daily. Lots of children in foster care don’t speak English as their first language and being able to speak their own language at home could hugely beneficial.
Renting or owning your home. If 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 will be required. Whether your home is a flat, house, cottage or doesn’t have a garden won’t be an issue, although you will need to have a spare room.
Health/disability. Like all potential applicants you must meet the criteria and will need to have a medical with your GP. Having a disability can bring invaluable personal experiences to being a carer and it worth discussing your circumstances when you start your enquiry.
DBS. All applicants must have a current DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) which is a police check. However, having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you unless the conviction is an offence against a child or was violent in nature. The most important thing is to be honest and straightforward. Discuss it at the start of the assessment process rather than wait for the DBS results to come it. Being open and transparent is crucial to the process.
Divorced or past relationships. Having been married before, divorced or had committed past relationships is no barrier to being a foster carer. Be prepared to talk about past relationships and it is normal for significant previous partners to be contacted as part of the assessment process. This can worry applicants but any contact with previous partners is done sensitively and in confidence.
Pets. Pets can be a wonderful asset when fostering. Our dog Luke has been cuddled endlessly and has listened to countless woes when the children have felt uncomfortable talking to an adult. Stroking a pet can bring down blood pressure and help to alleviate stress for both children and carers. It may, however, limit the type of placements you have.
Claiming benefits. Claiming benefits or Working Tax Credits will not stop you being a foster carer and again being transparent is important and I recommend discussing your circumstances when you enquire.
Life experience, both good and challenging, is irreplaceable when fostering and everyone’s circumstances are different. You don’t need to be perfect or have lived a perfect life. Would you like to foster? Can you give a child a loving and safe place to live? If this is something you and your family could do, or you want to know more, have an informal chat with one of our team on 0800 389 0143 or make an enquiry on our website.