Religious and cultural differences in foster care: what you need to know
London is an incredibly diverse city, where more than 250 languages are spoken every day and many different religions are observed.
It’s only natural, therefore, that cultural and religious matters often come up in foster care situations. As an independent foster care agency operating in south and east London, Lika matches young people and foster carers from a wide range of backgrounds every day.
So, how do we handle these differences? And how do we make great fostering matches?
This article will answer those questions (and quite a few more).
Could my religious or cultural background stop me becoming a foster carer?
Absolutely not. We welcome people from all backgrounds into the Lika family, and our carers come from a diverse range of faiths and cultural heritages.
What’s really important to us — and to the success of any foster care placement — are your values. So, in the very early stages of your journey towards becoming a foster carer (during the assessment process) we’ll ask you about what values are important to you.
Generally, we’re looking for carers with a value base that is inclusive and open to diversity and who may be open to putting the needs of our young people before their own needs in lots of areas.
Will you match me with a foster child from the same religious or cultural background as me?
Not necessarily. In fact, often not.
We have many young people in placements with foster carers from different religious or cultural backgrounds. It can work just great — and be an enriching and rewarding experience for everyone.
But our guiding principle in any match is that both our carers and our young people must be comfortable with the placement. We don’t want anyone to have a bad experience. So, we’ll talk to you about these matters before any placement is made.
Again, at Lika we’re looking for carers with an inclusive value base who are open to diversity.
What if I only want to foster a young person from the same background as me?
If you’re only interested in fostering a child from the same cultural or religious background as you, then we’ll ask you a few questions so we can understand why that’s important to you.
We’ll also want to understand exactly what that similarity means to you and what difference means to you, and to get a good idea of your values.
It’s worth noting here that, generally speaking, the more flexible you’re willing to be about cultural and religious differences, the easier it will be to find a good match and ensure a successful foster placement. It can be really difficult to find suitable placements for foster carers who hold very rigid views.
How does fostering a young person from a different background work in practice?
Let’s use a real-life example.
We have a foster family who are practicing Christians from a black Caribbean background. They’re fostering a young Jewish person, who also observes her religion.
The young person is old enough to stay home on her own so, when the family go to church on Sunday, she does not go with them.
However, the family go to great lengths to support their young person in her observance of her own faith, driving her to temple twice a week and ensuring her meals are kosher.
Occasionally, when timings clash, the foster parents might have to miss out on their own religious practices. But they understand their important role in supporting the young person they’re fostering, including in following her own faith.
Before the placement, the family didn’t know anything about looking after somebody with a Jewish background, so they made an effort to learn what was involved and the placement has been a real success.
Why does it work? Because they are open in their values and are willing to put the young person’s needs before their own. (Their own needs are also met, of course, but they are flexible in how they achieve that.)
Wouldn’t a young person who has experienced trauma prefer the familiarity of a carer from the same background?
Sometimes! But not always.
If it is important to the young person that their foster carers look and sound like them, then that’s OK. We’ll always ask them what kind of carers they’re looking for, because we want them to be as comfortable in the placement as possible.
Interestingly, sometimes a young person will deliberately request a carer who is just about the opposite to them in terms of background, simply because of what has happened to them in the past. Perhaps they might have come from a situation where within their culture or their religious practices — within their family — they’ve been really traumatised. Sometimes they’ll associate that particular heritage or background with negative connotations, so they’ll request someone from a completely different background in the hope of a better outcome.
Do I get a say in the young person I’m matched with?
Yes, of course.
Our carers have a lot more flexibility around the kinds of young people they’re looking for than some carers might in other fostering settings. But do remember that the more liberal and flexible you can be, the better the chance you have of being matched to a young person.
READ MORE: The inside story of a placement
Will you give me training to look after a young person from a cultural or religious background I’m unfamiliar with?
The Lika team — both our staff and our carers — come from pretty diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, so we are able to offer some help and ideas.
Where possible we’ll also pair you up with someone of an appropriate background who can give you advice — a bit like a mentor.
Training is actually a huge focus for us. Our goal, as an independent foster care agency, is to train and support you to become a skilled foster care professional in your own right.
We train all our carers to be curious and ask questions (rather than make assumptions) whenever difficulties arise.
Part of this approach (linked to systemic family therapy ideas – you can read more about it here) is based on the idea that understanding what influences the way a person acts and thinks, and responding with the right techniques, can be life-changing.
As a Lika foster carer, you’ll be fully trained in systemic principles and practices. This will give you new ways to respond to children who have experienced trauma and to the behaviours they might exhibit. This training will also be useful when it comes to handling any religious and cultural differences, as it teaches you to use curiosity and questions to problem-solve.
We’ve found that where we’ve matched carers and young people from different backgrounds the placements have been successful, in part, because of that curiosity — which helps develop a respect and understanding.
What do I do next if I’m ready to become a foster carer?
If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Ilford, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.