This blog summarises our Big Issue article from Issue 169 of Foster Care magazine about foster carers’ health and wellbeing.
The health and wellbeing of foster carers plays an integral role in carers’ ability to effectively look after children. Stable placements are key to good outcomes for fostered children, and, if foster carers are struggling themselves, they may be unable to continue in their roles.
What’s more, it’s important that foster carers set a good example to young people of how to keep themselves fit and well.
It is unlikely that foster carers’ mental and physical health are any different than other groups of people, but they can be significantly affected looking after children and young people with high levels of need.
Foster carers who are looking after children with the most complex needs shouldn’t be left to themselves when it comes to their physical and mental wellbeing. The evidence shows that foster carers need more support to maintain their own mental and physical health, so that they can provide stable foster care placements that help children to thrive. All fostering services should offer appropriate support to their foster carers to ensure their wellbeing - it’s good for the foster carers and, ultimately, it’s good for the children they are caring for.
A key concern, with austerity biting, is that the wellbeing of foster carers is unlikely to be prioritised. This must change if fostering is to flourish. It is important that in times of crisis, such as when a family member is ill and at times when foster carers just need to rest and recuperate, a familiar respite carer is available to look after a fostered child.
What is needed is a more creative, and consistent, approach to respite as in Mockingbird, a programme run by The Fostering Network with funding from the Department for Education, is an ‘extended family’ model that provides ‘satellite’ fostering families with a consistent ‘hub home’ which can provide respite. The hub home carers are a regular part of the lives of the young people from the satellite families so respite is not disruptive for a placement and provides a stable, secure and familiar setting for the children. Beyond this, the hub home also provides ongoing peer support for the satellite foster carers. One of the core principles at the heart of Mockingbird is that high levels of care should be provided for foster carers who can then in turn provide a high standard of care for children and young people.
For some people though talking things through isn’t the most appropriate solution and instead could benefit from another approach. One such approach is Mindfulness, which involves observing what’s happening in the present moment and accepting it. It is thought to help teach self-compassion and also helps participants to suspend immediate judgement and pause before making decisions. Similarly, yoga can offer enormous helath benefits to carers and some fostering services have taken bold steps to offer their foster carers courses in practices such as yoga and mindfulness. And many do emphasise the importance of good health and wellbeing for their fostering workforce as well.
All these factors are vital because the wellbeing of fostered children and young people depends on the wellbeing of the people looking after them.