Monday 8th May 2017 marks the start of Fostering Fortnight, and many agencies will mark the occasion by running a campaign to promote the benefits of fostering, in order to spark a recruitment drive to address the shortage of foster carers across the country. In theory, this is a great idea, and I can see why their marketing teams will be busy and why their carers and social work teams will be out and about in droves. It’s a noble cause.
Capstone Foster Care have always been a team to think a little differently, however.
The reason they were the right agency for me was all down to the fact that I never felt that they were trying to ‘sell’ fostering to me. Those of you who have followed my blogs for Capstone during my time with them will know that I’m dead against the concept of agencies marketing via the draws of “great rates of pay” and “all you need is a spare bedroom”. Straight away when I hear this, I’m turned off. Firstly, if you’re looking at becoming a foster carer for the money, then you are really not the right kind of person to take on this most momentous of life-changing tasks. Secondly, “all you need is a spare bedroom” – really? Have you ever even met a child?
Instead, Capstone have always proved to be the realists of the agency world (certainly in my personal and professional opinion, at least). Long before you’re even selected, they’ll call you, visit your home, and invite you to comprehensive training, education event and assessment days – all to make sure that you enter the application process with your eyes open. It sounds quite clinical, but this is good business sense. Taking on every interested party based on the utterance of “yeah I’ve always thought I might like to foster one day” is a false economy when it comes to recruitment. Not only do the selected carers need to be absolutely right for the role (in whatever form that may take), but they also need to have a full awareness of what this social care role entails.
I’ve spoken to those involved from both sides of the fostering network – the Capstone carers, and the Capstone colleagues. Here are some of the things they had to say when presented with the question: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of fostering?
“Find out as much information as you can. Attend awareness days, and see if the agency can put you in contact with foster carers who will remember being at the beginning of their journey and can recall their experience of enquiring. Be brave – if it’s something you have really considered for some time, then you have nothing to lose through somebody coming to visit to speak with you to tell you more.”
I fully agree with Vivienne, here. This whole process does take bravery – even in the early stages. It might be that after the agency comes to speak to you, you decide that fostering may not be for you after all, but at least this way you’ll definitely know, rather than just speculating. If you’re anything like me, after that first call or visit, you’ll be even more convinced that this is the right vocation for you.
“The one thing we have learnt throughout all of our experience is that however much we give, we get so much more back in return. It can be tough at times but we have had so many positive experiences and the support we get is second to none.”
Neil & Linzi
You may remember one of my blogs from a few weeks ago about ‘Getting Something Back’. The rewards you get as a carer may not be instantaneous or appear when you would expect them, but they are there, and they are numerous – whether they are explicit events or more subtle realisations. Neil and Linzi are absolutely right about this. You’re giving up a part of yourself in order to change the whole life of a child or a young person. What’s not rewarding about that?
“If you are resilient, compassionate, flexible and have a sense of humour, you can become a foster carer and make an ever-lasting difference to a child’s life.”
I have to agree with Adam’s point about having a sense of humour – if not to laugh along with the children in your care to make them feel at ease, safe and confident, then to laugh at yourself for some of the circumstances you will undoubtedly find yourself in. I remember having a massive argument with a teenager in my care about vanity and bigger things in life being more important than having the latest trainers, only to then have to sheepishly knock on his door to borrow his hair dryer, because my husband had blown mine up trying to quick-dry his freshly laundered underpants.
“Think carefully and discuss everything with your family.”
Amanda is right – you really need to talk to your family when it comes to fostering. Obviously, if you have a partner, you will 100% need for that person to be on board with your decision to foster, because even if they love kids/ you both want kids/ you both have kids, fostering is an entirely different conversation. As well as being set with your partner though, you have to consider the rest of your family. Be prepared for the fact that if you have children, they may be dead against the idea – I know I would have been! We didn’t have our own kids when we started the process, but we had a cat, and that was about as much hurt, guilt and attitude as I could take, so an actual son or daughter could have proved infinitely trickier. Finally, discuss it with your wider family – parents if they’re still around, and siblings if you’re close to them. Be ready for the fact that they may not be as supportive as you’d like – mine weren’t – but there’s a very strong likelihood that it’s because they’re just worried about you. Take time to talk them through everything, put yourself in their place, answer their questions and settle their fears. Capstone will always volunteer to go and speak with them anyway, and this mediation really helps, I can tell you.
“The advice I would give to anybody interested in this challenge is to just enquire online or pick up the phone and speak to Capstone Foster Care. Give us a call, ask us your questions, and gather information on the latest news. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – go for it.”
Assistant Administration Manager
Sam’s got a good point, here. For the sake of a telephone conversation, you’ve got nothing to lose. The response you get may give you a wonderful glow that makes you feel great about taking the next step to apply to change lives as a foster carer. Similarly, you may figure out quite quickly that fostering really isn’t for you – thus saving yourself a lot of time, energy and emotion in the long run.
“I would say to any potential foster carers that you should approach the idea of fostering a child with an open mind. Expect everything – there may be a lot of bumps in the road! Either way, all foster carers are doing something amazing.”
In the short time I’ve been a foster carer, I’ve hit a lot of bumps; some of them unexpected, just as Becky states in her quote, and some I saw coming from a mile off, but just couldn’t do anything to stop the impact. It’s natural to think that all these so-called bumps, or mountains, as they often feel like, will be as a result of something the child has or hasn’t done, but a lot of the time, those bumps will be council or local authority-shaped, and much as you may just want to drive over them, it’s legally frowned upon. Stand true to who you are, and what you believe in. I’ve always stood by the view of “no shared roof, no opinion”. You just have to switch off to a lot of things that will eat at you, and just remember that you will be the best advocate the child in your care will ever have.
“Speak to other foster carers before applying – listen to what they have to say.”
If talking to an existing foster carer who has been through application and assessment is something that you feel you’d benefit from, but you don’t happen to know any, Sandra and the team at Capstone would always be able to put you in contact with existing carers – ones in your community, and ones who are taking on the kinds of children and young people you’re looking to work with. It’s a fantastic resource, and a great way of gaining a first-hand account of their stories.
“If you are open-minded, nurturing, committed to helping a child and able to guide them to a brighter future, then fostering will be right for you.”
All of these qualities mentioned by Rochelle are completely right. It’s never just about the here and now, it’s about using your skills, qualities and experiences to carve out the most positive and promising healthy future you can for that young person, because as we’re always told about kids – they grow up so quickly.
“My response to the question is to take the opportunity to look into fostering on a deeper level. It’s never too late or too soon to start. To know that you are making a difference in a child’s life is so rewarding. To see them thrive and to grow up in a safe and stable environment is the best gift you can give to someone. I’d does not matter if you have doubts, as those will all be put to rest when you start the process.”
Christian is of course right – you will have doubts at the start of the process. Why wouldn’t you? Until you’ve fostered, you’ll know very little about the full ins and outs of the process. I would add here that even after those first meetings and the start of the application process, you will still have doubts and questions, but this is completely normal given the enormity of what you’re doing. Just have faith that with the right agency, like Capstone, you’ll be fully supported and honestly answered throughout.
“Choose an agency who can offer you excellent support.”
Never underestimate the importance of choosing the right agency. As Catherine, one of Capstone’s Regional Directors, suggests, it’s all about the help and support. There will be points when you need the agency at the other end of the phone, or even at your house, and there will be times when you need answers, information, or just some well-timed reassurance. Choosing the right agency will be key to getting that support, because if you are to do a good job of looking after a child or young person, then your agency is going to need to do an even better job of looking after you.
Any blog or article of mine wouldn’t be complete without my own summary, and so my answer to the question of what advice would I give to anyone thinking about fostering is this:
Fostering is not easy. There’s no such thing as an instant reward, and every day will be different to the last. But, if the idea of taking on such a wonderful challenge – all to make a child or young person’s life infinitely better – is something you know in your head and heart you’ve got a good shot at doing, go for it!
I genuinely stand by this advice, because the world needs more good people in it right now, and if those people can shape the minds and actions of younger generations for the better, then fostering is truly a gift that just keeps on giving.