Once you’ve made the decision to become a foster carer, you’ll have spoken to your family and closest friends and have completed the invaluable Skills to Foster course with your chosen agency or Local Authority and you are now ready for the official assessment to begin.
This is a formal process required of all foster carers to complete, regardless of who you are fostering with and regardless if you are applying to foster a family member. As you’d expect, you are required to apply for a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check which used to be called a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau) early on in the process and whilst it is going through, your assigned social worker will work through requirements set out in the official Form F (a mandatory document used in the assessment processes). The form isn’t completed until the end of the assessment process but the questions and topics for discussions lead to some very interesting conversations.
You will probably have been told during your enquiry and course that the assessment can appear intrusive and there is no question or apology that you and the social worker will be become intimately acquainted! The fostering assessment has no set time and you can be approved in a matter of months, 6-9 months or over a year, depending on your circumstances.
So what does the assessment consist of? Well mostly it’s you doing a lot of talking about yourself and drinking lots of tea.
In no particular order, be prepared to discuss your family and origins, your relationship with your parents and siblings, religion and your childhood as well as any previous relationships and ex partners. Discussing your ex partners is one that a lot of people can find difficult and social workers are often asked ‘why do you need to know that’? If you’ve been previously married or have children with an ex partner, the social worker is required to contact them which again some applicants can find invasive. However, there are legitimate reasons behind these personal questions and the bottom line is that the assessing social worker is required to check every link possible in order to protect any children going into your care. These requirements are outlined in the 2013 Government document: Fostering services: assessment and approval of foster carers.
If you are a couple applying to be foster carers be ready to discuss your relationship, how you met, how you resolve disagreements, how you spend your leisure time, how any child will fit in your existing family and talk to any birth children, even if they are grown up or no longer live with you. Your finances, home life, your experience with children, social network and basics such as how your household works will be discussed and you’ll need to show bank statements, MOT and car insurance certificates, if you drive. This doesn’t mean you have to be financially well off or have a car to foster.
All areas of your life will be open to discussion and will include your health (you will need to have a medical, which your GP can do), your education, your employment history and previous addresses. The hardest thing I found about this part of the process was remembering dates and postcodes as I’d moved around a lot in my younger years.
In effect, a profile of your identity is being built and includes your personal information, class, racial and ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, cultural heritage, language and spiritual views and your attitude to diversity.
All of this is written up by the social worker but there is a small amount of writing you will need to do such as building your chronology (significant events in your life and the order that they happened) and the local amenities and schools in your area.
Then there are the more elusive questions such as why do you want to foster, how you think fostering will impact on you and your family, your preferred age range of children and how will you react to meeting the child’s birth family?
By this time your DBS forms will have been returned, your medical will have been done and your Form F will be gradually compiled by your social worker. You are nearly there and talk of panel will have started. Going before a panel is the final part of the assessment but the good news is that your social worker will not put you forward or suggest panel until they are confident that you are ready. No matter how many times my assessing social worker told me that I was ready and not to be stressed about the upcoming date, it didn’t matter; I still panicked. I felt the build up much like I approached exams at school but the reality was very different. We were introduced to a table of professionals including social workers, the agency directors, an experienced foster carer and someone who had been in foster care. They put us at our ease and we answered a few questions and spoke honestly about why we wanted to foster. We were approved the same day and were ready for our first placement.
The official assessment took seven months in total and lead to some of the most interesting discussions I’ve ever had with my husband and I got to know myself so much better. I’ve also never drunk so much tea in my life!