Can I keep working if I become a foster carer?
One of the most common questions we get asked by people who are thinking about becoming a foster carer is “Can I keep working if I become a foster carer?”
It’s a really important question and the answer isn’t as simple as a straight yes or no.
In this article we’ll take you through all the kinds of things that need to be considered if you’re hoping to juggle another career alongside your foster care career.
Hopefully, it’ll provide some food for thought — but you can always give us a call for a chat about your specific situation, too.
The competing demands on your time
As a foster carer you are going to have lots of competing demands on your time.
One of the first things you need to think about is how much time you can dedicate to the fostering role. You must have the space and time for a young person, not just within the foster placement, but outside of it as well.
For example, how much space and time do you have for training? There’s a lot asked of foster carers in their first year, including around eight days of training. As you go along in your fostering career training demands become less, but in the first year, it’s quite a big time commitment. Do you have the time to attend?
Then consider the time commitment for the young person as well. Think about different scenarios and situations that can pop up for them. A young person in care often has a lot of appointments with professionals. These professionals might come to the home, like a therapist or social worker.
But a young person might have meetings outside of the fostering placement as well, which generally we like foster carers to be able to take them to. Again, that might be a meeting with a social worker, a therapist, or somebody else they connected with.
Young people in care also often have contact with their family. We generally ask foster carers to take young people to their contact appointments with parents or birth family.
Before and after this contact is a really good time for the foster carer to be able to connect with the young person and check in with them, so we like you to be the person who takes them. If this task is done by someone who’s not so close to the young person, then the young person can lose out on this good opportunity to bond with their carer and have some quality time together.
Employment, commitment and motivation
Foster carers at Lika come from all sorts of employment situations: some work full-time, others work part-time, some have paid employment, and others are retired.
When you come to us to find out about becoming a foster carer, we’ll ask you about your work status and have a conversation that looks closely at your commitments and the time you’re able to offer a young person. If you’re working full-time, you’ve got birth children, or you’ve got other competing demands outside of work, we’ll ask you where a young person and the time you’ll need to give them will fit into your life.
There’s a good reason for this.
Children in care need your emotional and physical time. They’ve quite often come from situations where they haven’t had that from the people who’ve looked after them, so foster carers need to offer a little extra with the young people coming into their care.
While there are options for looking after children that working parents often rely on, like breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, that’s not a solution we promote a young person attending every day. Quite often a young person in foster care will have contact with family on the weekends, so if they’re spending weekdays in school and in breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, how much time are they actually spending with you?
We also don’t promote the regular use of childminders and babysitters. If a young person is coming to stay with you, they’re coming into your care. We want a young person to connect with their foster carer.
This all really comes back to your motivation for becoming a foster carer. Generally, we expect you like children and you’re going to want to spend time with them, and that you want to help young people who have come through difficult situations to heal and form safe relationships. You need to be emotionally and physically available to be able to do that. Relationships need time to develop and flourish.
A conversation with your employers
We ask people who are interested in becoming foster carers to talk to their employers about their plans. This can feel initially feel a bit scary to people sometimes, but it can be a really helpful conversation.
We’ve had lots of feedback from people who’ve spoken to their employers. Some really good things can come out of it.
Employers have tended to say things like: “Oh, wow, you’re going to become a foster carer. Fantastic. If you need additional time, we’ll support you with that”. Generally, employers will want to help out if they can, because you’re doing something good; you’re giving something back.
READ MORE: How the foster care assessment process works
Again, you need time to be a foster carer — time for training and for parenting tasks that can pop up. Some employers will ask that you take any time off from your annual leave. Others will help you find another way of having time off. So, we ask you to have that conversation with your employer to find out what they can do for you.
Single foster carers and employment
It just so happens that most of our fosters carers are single people. Being single is no impediment to becoming a foster carer, but it does mean that having a good support network in place — because you’re one person doing a lot of things. It’s not essential that you have a large network around you, however starting the conversation with you friends or family that you’re thinking about fostering is a good place to start.
This is especially the case if you’re also working and may need to call on them for practical support.
If your young person needs to be picked up or dropped off at school, especially if they’re primary school age, who’s able to help out with that? Or, if there are appointments they might need to go to, whom can you rely on? What happens if your young person has some kind of difficulty at school while you’re at work?
READ MORE: Can single people become foster carers?
Also, there’s no guarantee your young person will be in school all day, every day.
It’s not the rule, but some young people in care aren’t in full-time education but rather operate on a reduced timetable. So, you might need to be available at home. Matching you to the right young person with your situation and availability is key.
Flexible working arrangements
If you need to go to a location to work, perhaps into an office in town and you’re commuting there and back, then you’re going to be away for quite a lot of time.
What happens if something pops up for the young person when they need to be home from school? Are you able to attend to that?
If you’re in a flexible working environment, where you can work from home, we can absolutely take that into consideration.
Surprise late nights
It’s also common for some older young people in foster care to stay out late sometimes, because they’re not used to having boundaries (like curfews and bedtimes).
If a young person stays out later, there’s a clear process that needs to be followed including contacting the Local Authority and the police. We need you, as the foster carer, to be available for this young person when they return (and to update the Local Authority and the police).
If you’re starting work early in the morning, having a late night with your young person can make that difficult. It can also make getting to school the next day difficult for the young person, so you (or someone in your close network whom the young person knows) need to be available to be with them the next day.
If you’ve got a young person coming to stay with you, you obviously need to think about school holidays. Are you going to be able to take time off during school holidays to look after your young person?
You have to think about how much annual leave you have each year and how much you’re able to use for your young person to spend time with them.
The age of your young person
If a young person is five years old or younger, we need the foster carer to be home full-time. If a young person’s a little bit older, there can definitely be a lot flexibility around work.
Again, a lot of our foster carers are in employment of different kinds. We understand that people need to have money and that they have careers. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
However, the more restrictions there are on your time, the harder it will be to match you with a young person. The more open your time is and the more time you have available, the wider the range of children we can potentially place with you.
It’d be awful to be in a situation where you’ve gone through the whole process of becoming a foster carer, you’re getting excited for it, but actually getting a placement is incredibly difficult.
Your finances and foster care
We don’t want anyone becoming a foster carer to end their employment and find themselves in financial difficulties. So, part of the assessment process is a financial check so we can make sure that you’re in a place where it’s financially viable to be a foster carer.
We wouldn’t want you to become a foster carer and find fostering exacerbates any financial pressures you’ve already got. Fostering finance should help the situation you’re in, but it shouldn’t be something you solely rely on.
You do get paid for being a foster carer. There are two parts to the payment that you receive. One part is a reward element, which is to thank you for being a foster carer. That’s for you to spend any way you like. Then there’s the fostering allowance element. This covers any of the costs that come for the young person, like clothing, activities and so on.
The reward element won’t be enough to completely rely on, and we need you to be financially stable. So, we understand if you need to continue working, again, we need to think about how your employment will work alongside fostering.
You can read more about remuneration here.
A final word (and a little reassurance)
We get regular feedback from foster carers that fostering is more demanding than they thought it would be.
Don’t forget; being a foster carer is a professional job in its own right — you’ll be a registered, licenced professional. You’ll be expected to undertake training each year to keep your skills up-to-date and be the best foster carer you can possibly be.
If your other employment is taking up a lot of your time, and if it’s physically and emotionally draining, then maybe now isn’t the right time for you to become a foster carer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t become an amazing foster carer in the future, when you have more time and space available.
Or, if you have the time available and you’re keen to begin your fostering journey, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you! Let’s talk about how we can integrate fostering in to your life.
In London and want to know more about Lika Family Fostering?
Being a foster carer is a role like no other. Successful foster care requires an excellent support network and team around the placement.
Lika is an innovative agency that uses systemic family therapy approaches as a model to guide everything we do.
If you’re interested to know more, give our team a call on 0208 667 2111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lika recruits foster carers 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, and Kensington and Chelsea.