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Foster carer training: behind the scenes at Skills to Foster

Tuesday 08 December 2020

When you apply to become a foster carer, you’ll attend a Skills to Foster three-day foster carer training programme. This is your basic training, covering everything from therapeutic care to real case studies and roleplay.

It’s compulsory for everyone, including people who did their first foster carer training with us and experienced carers who have done a foster carer transfer. It’s also an opportunity to meet other potential carers in your area.

Normally, we deliver this course face-to-face. During Covid-19, we’ve delivered Skills to Foster online using Zoom – to great success. Feedback from our carers is used to continually refine the foster carer training across the board.

Here’s what some of our newest foster carers thought about the course and they have also shared their wider thoughts about becoming foster carers. Plus, behind-the-scenes insight from one of our training managers.

Sarah – approved for fostering in August 2020

Sarah has wanted to foster all her life but, up until this year the time wasn’t right. In January 2020, however, she began her application with Fostering Solutions North West and attended Skills to Foster in July.

“Jam-packed full of information”

The course was delivered via Zoom and Sarah admits to being filled with trepidation beforehand about the technicalities of attending online training. However, her fears proved unfounded, as she explained: “It was fine to do it online – the course was jam-packed full of information, with friendly trainers and a good mix of individual story sharing. We participated in group work in breakout sessions and then came back together to feed back to the group.

“We heard from carers who’d been fostering for many years and it was really useful to hear their stories. There was a good mix of people on the course and, out of 13 of us, five were single carers, which was a surprise to me.”

Therapeutic parenting and trauma

“One of the things I found most useful was the discussion about therapeutic parenting, how it differs from traditional parenting and how to respond to people who might just regard it as a ‘pushover way of parenting’.

“We learned about the impact of trauma on children and young people and how this affects their development. The session about some of the experiences of young people was hard-hitting and underlined why foster carers are needed.

Start your fostering journey today

“I’ve just begun my first placement – fostering three siblings – so I’m looking forward to being able to put it into practice everything I’ve learned. And it was so great to meet up with other foster carers and to hear from people who’ve been doing it for many years and can share their experiences.”

Sharon and Alan – approved for fostering in October 2020

Sharon and Alan are at the start of their foster journey with two siblings aged two and one, who are about to join them and their two birth children, five and eight.

They were prompted to consider fostering after a discussion about who would care for their two boys if anything happened to them. A “hope in humanity” led them to believe that someone would step forward to look after their children if they couldn’t.

Sharon said: “We thought why not be that person… even if we only help one child? We wanted to pass on some of the good fortune we’ve had with our own family life.”

Why they chose National Fostering Group

Sharon and Alan applied to become foster carers with Kindercare, our agency in Northern Ireland, after attending an open day advertised in their local paper.

Alan said: “We liked what we saw, how the agency was structured and the focus on training. I’m an architect and Sharon is a vet so CPD [continuing professional development] is something we’re very used to.

“We liked the fact, too, that there’s always a qualified social worker on duty who can give you fostering support and advice whenever you need it. And it felt good that they take so much care to match the foster children with the foster family.”

“Everything made perfect sense”

The couple attended Skills to Foster online in September. Sharon said: “We loved it. The two ladies who ran it were amazing – so passionate about fostering. Everything made perfect sense and was very enjoyable.

“There was a broad spectrum of people and families participating and it was great to hear everyone’s views, which could be very different. It made us want to do more training.”

Like Sarah, Alan and Sharon were a bit daunted by the idea of three days of online training, fearing it might be “death by PowerPoint”! But the careful planning done by our foster care training team was pleasant surprise.

Alan said: “There was a lot of different types of interaction and we were given role plays and scenarios to work through. They were real case studies but with the names redacted. It made it all very real. We watched videos and were able to identify things that were wrong.”

Different foster carer backgrounds

“There was a fantastic mix of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, which prompted some really interesting discussions, as everyone had a different take on how they would deal with things,” Alan said. “One participant was a single mum, another had never had kids.

“Lots of people had a background of working with children and we felt out of our depth at first. But then we realised that being on the ground with two young children has given us a gut feel for things as much as someone who has studied from textbooks and our experience was a valid as anyone else’s.

“It was nerve-racking at first going around the table and sharing our views, but we thought well, we’re raising two boys and they seem to be doing OK so bring it on.

“I don’t think we’d have got the same mix of people if it hadn’t been done online as we’d just have been with people from our local area, so that was a real benefit.”

“You come out a better person”

The whole application process has proved very positive for Alan and Sharon. Alan said: “We’re better people now than we were when we started this process. It has been cathartic, eye-opening, honest. We know more about ourselves and each other.

“There were things that have always been in our background and upbringing, but this process makes you look at things through a different lens. You take away lessons from it that benefit each other, our boys and hopefully any looked after children. I strongly recommend it.

“If you have any inkling at all that you might like to become a foster carer I would recommend the Skills to Foster training. You will come out a better person at end of it, whether you decide to foster or not.”

Behind the scenes – Susannah, Regional Training Service Manager, London

“Skills to Foster equips people with the essential skills they need to become a foster carer and is a compulsory part of the assessment process.

“I have been delivering the programme for more than 12 years, but this year it is the first time that it has been run entirely online. There have been a few challenges along the way but by running the course online we’ve ensured that people across the UK can continue to undergo foster carer training and get approved, albeit in a different way to before.

“Nearly 500 people have completed the course since April and the training has also been made available at weekends for people who are working.”

Building blocks

“As well as enabling people to meet up with other prospective foster carers, Skills to Foster provides the basic building blocks for fostering.

“For example, we introduce the concept of therapeutic parenting, which recognises that traditional approaches to parenting may not be sufficient for looked after children who may have undergone very traumatic experiences. The course looks at behaviour management strategies and covers some of the reasons that children and young people come into the care system.”

Recognising existing skills

“We aim to provide a realistic picture of what it means to foster and to give people the knowledge they need to become foster carers, as well as recognising skills they already have.

“For example, some people have a background in care work and so are already skilled in areas such as record-keeping and accountability. Other people who have children of their own may have expertise in caring for children but may be less confident with some of the more administrative tasks.”

Fostering options

“There are many different types of fostering and, depending on the background people have and their particular areas of interest, they may wish to specialise in parent and child fostering or working with asylum seekers, for example.

“All of the different options are covered on the course so people can choose what might work best for them and their family. In rare cases people might decide that fostering is not for them and although this can be disappointing it is good for them to know that.”

Foster carer training online

“The online Skills to Foster programme is delivered on Zoom and includes live presentations, videos, case studies and group breakout exercises. There is the chance to talk to a foster carer and ask questions. Next year we are planning to launch a new, updated version of the course which will follow a more modular approach and include more subject area experts.

“I am a passionate believer in Skills to Foster – it’s why I’ve worked hard this year to ensure we can continue delivering the programme online this year. It’s a crucial first step in getting people to understand the needs of looked after children and what they might need to do to make a difference to these children’s lives. It’s great to see people learning and developing and taking these skills on.”

“Our relaunched Skills to Foster is being created with input from foster carers, young people and applicants and we are looking at how we can make it up-scalable. It is needed more than ever to meet the growing demand for foster carers.”

Has this inspired you?

As the largest independent fostering agency in the UK, we have strong foster carer training and fostering support resources and frameworks in place. Skills to Foster is just one. If you feel you’d like to know more, please get in touch for a chat with your local team.

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