Being a foster carer is a rewarding job, but one which can be really challenging. In order to provide the best possible care for the children they look after, and to provide the children with stability, security and a positive experience of family life, foster carers need to be well supported by their fostering service.
Foster carers offer children day-to-day care within their homes. This is a rewarding but challenging job. But foster carers are not alone – they work as part of the team around a child, and must be supported by others in that team to ensure that children are receiving the best possible care. The level and type of support that they need may change with each child in placement and at different times.
Fostering services are responsible for providing foster carers with a range of formal and informal support, including proper supervision, short breaks, peer support, out-of-hours support and access to independent support, as well as support for their sons and daughters.
While many foster carers report that they are satisfied with the support they receive from their supervising social worker, they also report that the provision of other types of support is varied.
Fostering is a challenging task and many foster carers need to be available to the children in their care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They may need assistance and advice outside of office hours from someone who understands the issues, but this is not always available. For some, having access to short breaks can help placements continue when they otherwise might not, but these are not provided as a matter of course.
Moreover, foster carers frequently have children placed with them outside of their agreed approval range, putting fostering families under high levels of stress. Accessing tailor-made support in such situations is not always easy.
Like other child care professionals, foster carers are open to the possibility of allegations being made against them. While an investigation takes place, they are entitled to independent support. However, the practice is not widespread.
Where foster carers have to deliver a service with inadequate support, placement stability is threatened and they are more likely to consider ceasing to foster. Support from their peers, for example through foster care associations or similar groups and access to specialist services can at times make all the difference.
The Fostering Network’s view
Fostering can be a challenging role. We believe that strong support for foster carers is crucial, and plays a key role in stability and success of placements.
We believe that:
- Children should be placed with foster carers who can best meet their needs and help them fulfil their potential.
- All fostered children should be made aware of the support and services available to them and should have access to an independent adult they can trust and who can represent their interests if required.
- All fostering services in England Wales and Scotland should comply with existing regulations when proposing a change to foster carers' terms of approval.
- All information about a child should be shared with their foster carer, so they can identify their support and training needs.
- All foster carers should have regular supervision from a named supervisor.
- All fostering services should provide a dedicated full-time support service to foster carers.
- The sons and daughters of foster carers should have access to support groups.
- Foster carers and their families should have access to independent support when needed.
- Foster carers should have access to specialist and tailor-made support when needed.
- Foster carers and the children in their care should have access to mental health support and therapeutic services when needed.
- All fostering services should have a transparent framework for dealing with allegations and ensure that timescales are adhered to.
- Fostering services should establish and assist support groups for foster carers.