What’s it like being a foster carer in the UK?
Becoming a foster carer in the UK is a life-changing decision – not just for the young person you’re welcoming into your home, but for you as the carer and for your family and support network, too.
Like anything else we do in life, foster caring comes with highs and lows. There can be challenges and frustrations, but equally real moments of achievement and joy. As wonderful as those emotional highs are, the low moments can be really tough going.
So what’s it really like being a foster carer in the UK?
We spoke to Amira, a foster carer in South London since 2016, to find out about her experience.
Why did you want to become a foster carer in the UK?
Amira loves children. She had spent 30 years working with children with disabilities, had provided foster care for children in the past, and had successfully raised three children of her own. Once her career had ended and her children had left, Amira found herself bored at home alone.
“My daughter said ‘why don’t you become a foster carer?” Amira said. “She works for a local authority as a social worker, so she knows they’re always looking for foster carers.”
“I’m used to this idea (of foster care) because I did respite care and children used to come into my house and stay for a night, and also my sister is a foster carer.”
GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.
What was the assessment process to become a foster carer like?
Before becoming a foster carer in the UK, you go through an assessment process. You’ll be assigned an assessing social worker who will, with great care and appreciation, assesses your suitability to become a foster carer.
The social worker will ask you a lot of questions and build up a picture of who you are, what your home is like, your motivations for becoming foster carers and so on. If you’re not used to this sort of thing, it can sound intimidating. But Amira said she actually enjoyed the experience.
“It took a couple of weeks to do the form,” she said. “It was quite interesting for me because I wasn’t too busy, so I could sit with the social worker and do the forms.
“I found it very interesting, when I was reading the report she wrote about me, that it showed from my childhood through to my adulthood. She was able to do it because of the way she asked the questions. I don’t normally think about these things, but I was quite happy to see it in the report.
“(My assessing social worker) was charming, so it was really easy. It felt friendly from the start.”
What kind of professional support does a foster carer get?
Once you have been approved to become a foster carer in the UK, the assessing social worker hands you over to someone called a supervising social worker. They’re the go-between for you and the fostering service (or the local authority). They’re your advocate as a foster carer, helping with everything from arranging respite to providing training, answering questions, and helping you interpret anything bamboozling that might have been said in a meeting.
Once you have foster children in your life you actually have a huge support network including clinicians, psychotherapists, registered managers and more.
What happens once a foster child arrives at your home for the first time?
Once Amira had been approved to become a foster carer, she couldn’t wait to welcome a child into her home.
“I thought they were taking too long because I was so keen to start and I felt it should happen straightaway,” she said. “It took about three months after I was accepted as a foster carer.
“The first child was just for one night. The second placement has been with me since they came to me, which is over two years now.”
Here’s what happens when a foster child comes into your home for first-time placements:
- Your supervising social worker is always there when you meet the young person (and their social worker). There’ll be a bit of a meeting at this point
- The young person might want to see their room and put some of their things in place. (This often happens before the meeting)
- You’ll have a light discussion around favourite foods, likes and dislikes, routines, the use of technology in the house, and so on
- There’ll also be a discussion around feelings, expectations and boundaries, but again this is kept light
- A Delegated Authority form will be handed to you, which outlines who in the support network can give permission for what (like school trips and medical treatment, for example)
- Your supervising social worker will visit once a week initially, but then less often depending on the complexity of the child’s needs and how you feel (remember, support is always just a phone call away)
- You’ll start to fill in a daily log, capturing the young person’s behaviours, responses, etc. Your foster care team will read these every day and offer detailed feedback for the first month or so
- At some point in the first five days, a placement planning meeting (a more formal version of that initial meeting) will take place to firm up the rules of the placement, expectations, etc.
How will my life change as a foster carer?
One of the biggest things foster carers notice, apart from having children (or extra children) in their house, is the amount of professional people who are suddenly in their lives.
That huge support network mentioned above can mean a lot of people visiting you in your home and lots of meetings to attend.
“When I started, I felt like this was too many meetings,” Amira said. “Social workers, the local authority, training, and so on. Now there’s less training, but the first year was a bit hectic.”
Then there are other changes, too, especially to a foster family’s lifestyle.
“There was a moment that I felt restricted, like going out or going on holidays,” Amira said.
“I have to get lots of permission (from their social worker, their mum, the local authority) to take them on holiday. And there are certain places I can’t take them or I can’t go because of them.
“I also used to go on holiday while school was going on, but at the moment I have to go on holiday when school is closed, and that can triple the price.
“So this is the bad side of it. But other than that, it’s quite enjoyable. I’m doing activities with them that I would not otherwise do, like going to the park, playing in the playground, playing games and those sorts of things.
“If it was only me and my husband, I don’t think we’d do those things, but now we’re doing them every day. So it’s keeping us more fit and active.
“Also I now cook every day and otherwise I might not bother so much for two people.”
What effect might foster caring have on my family?
Every family is different, but the important thing to remember is that you’re never alone – professional support is always at your fingertips.
“Anytime I feel like I need to call (the supervising social worker), I call them and they answer straightaway,” Amira said. They are always available, even in the middle of the night.”
Amira had a situation develop where her grandchildren felt “a bit hurt” that there was someone else taking their grandmother’s attention. They felt, Amira said, like “there was someone else in their place”.
“The (foster children) used to misbehave when my grandchildren came into my house because my attention was diverted to my grandchildren,” she said.
“This was difficult for the first year, but they have become used to my grandchildren and I am now also used to paying my attention fairly to my foster kids and to my grandchildren.”
Amira called her supporting social worker and got some help, using systemic family therapy ideas, to find a solution to the problem.
“(If there is ever a situation, the social worker) will stay with me until the situation is calm,” she said. “Then the next day they will call and check everything is OK.
“Every time there was an incident (the social worker) did a lot of work to build the relationship between me and my foster kids. They also did group work with my family and my foster kids, too.”
READ MORE: What is a systemic approach to foster care?
What is the best thing about being a foster parent?
Not every day is easy as a foster carer. But then not every day is easy as a parent, or at work, or in anything else we do in our lives. But that doesn’t mean the rewards aren’t huge.
We asked Amira what she loves most about foster caring.
“When I see the progress on the child,” she said. “I feel very proud when I go to school and they say the child did very well, because I know at home I’m pushing very hard for them to do their homework and giving them extra tuition.
“And also when other people see them after a couple of months and they say, ‘oh, they have changed so much’. It makes me very proud.”
So what is Amira’s advice for getting through that first difficult period?
“Being a foster carer, in the first year, you should think that you are just planting the seed,” she said. “You have to wait for it to grow. But this growing time is just one year and after one year, you will see the results.
“If somebody has room in the house, if they have time, and if they love children, then they should offer this space to a child,” Amira said.
“There are children who really need a home. They can go to a house, but they really need a home. A foster carer who can give a child, or two children, a home means at least one person’s life can be made happy.”
Live in South or East London and interested in becoming a foster carer?
Lika recruits foster carers for children in local authority care. We’re recruiting potential foster carers in Croydon as well as South and East London. Lika supports foster carers to develop their skills and knowledge to care appropriately for these children.
If you’re interested in foster care, get in touch.