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How foster carers and foster children are ‘matched’

Thursday 11 August 2022

We often talk about how well a foster parent and foster child have been ‘matched’, usually in the context of a fostering placement that’s going well. It’s a feel-good moment for our supervising social workers – because they’ve contributed to that good match being made.

Natalie Currie is a Supervising Social Worker at Fostering Solutions, a National Fostering Group agency. She previously worked for a local authority for 19 years, 4 of those in fostering. Now based in the North West, she supports foster carers in Liverpool.

Here, she talks through the process of how foster carers and foster children are matched. The process is the same whether the placement is for 6 months or 16 years.

The matching process

“Every foster child has unique needs. Each foster carer has unique experience, skill and personal characteristics to bring to their role,” Natalie said.

“Getting good outcomes for looked-after children is one of our key objectives. An element of this is to bring the foster child together with a foster parent who can fulfil their particular needs and provide the right conditions for them to thrive.”

1. The Referrals Team

National Fostering Group have regional referrals teams (also known as commissioning teams) built of supervising social workers (SSWs). Each SSW has a group of foster carers they work with. When the local authority sends details of a child needing a foster carer, this team is where the matching starts.

Natalie said: “Our SSWs know their foster carers really well. This is partly due to the level of support and communication – weekly calls, monthly face-to-face meetings, that sort of thing. They have an instinct for which carers would be suitable for which foster child or sibling group.”

All this information is held on our system but it’s also the depth of the relationships between SSWs and foster carers that helps get the ball rolling.

“We really do know our foster carers,” said Natalie. “They are human beings with different skills and preferences and capabilities.”

The SSWs will also know, off the tops of their heads, facts like:

  • Who has pets (in case of an allergy or fear)
  • Who has other foster children
  • Who has birth children at home
  • Knowledge of everyone else in the household
  • If the carer smokes or vapes
  • Any recent changes in the household that need consideration
  • A carer’s stated fostering preferences
  • A foster carer’s Approval Status

“When we’ve tentatively matched a foster child to one of our foster carers, we will discuss it with the foster carer first to see if they want to know more,” said Natalie.

We really do know our foster carers. They are human beings with different skills and preferences and capabilities.

Approval Status

This refers to who a foster carer is approved to look after. Normally, it’s a case of ‘all children from 0-18’ but in the case of people who smoke or vape, it will be ‘all children 5 years and above’.

Other criteria determine Approved Status too. We do consider the experience of the foster carer against the needs of the foster child for obvious reasons.

Natalie said: “We wouldn’t give a brand new foster carer a challenging placement off the bat – that wouldn’t be fair to the carer or the child.

“We want placements to succeed, so we do all we can to make sure they do. If you’re still thinking about becoming a foster carer, we endeavour not to throw you in at the deep end on your first placements!”

New foster carers are usually approved for short term, long term, emergency fostering and respite care. Placements like Parent & Child and Bridge to Foster require specialism through experience and training, though foster carers who have been nurses, midwives, or other professionals are treated slightly differently in this respect.

Carer preferences

When you’re in the process of becoming a foster carer, you will discuss with your social worker the types of fostering you’d like to do. This isn’t set in stone – in fact, officially, your preferences will be reviewed every year and if you do change your mind, you can tell your SSW at any time that you do or don’t want to do certain types of placements.

“It’s interesting that most new foster carers have a clear understanding of the types of fostering they’d like to do,” Natalie said.

“However, their preferences tend to evolve as they become more experienced, as they undertake different types of training, or even as a result of talking with other foster carers. We see foster carers who, when they started out, had preferences for babies and toddlers. Before long, they’re fostering three teenagers and absolutely loving it.”

Additional needs

Natalie said: “For fostering children and young people with additional needs, the team also looks for foster carers with an extra helping of patience, nurturing, caring qualities – all these in abundance.”

We see foster carers who, when they started out, had preferences for babies and toddlers. Before long, they’re fostering three teenagers and absolutely loving it.

2. Early talks

The majority of foster child referrals to our regional teams will include a Placement Plan and, usually, a Care Plan.

The SSWs will have used the information in these plans to consider potential matches. They also use it to discuss it informally with the potential foster carer.

“Certain questions come up from a practical perspective,” Natalie explained. “Like where the child goes to school and will the foster carer be expected to do the school run. They also ask about parental contact and how often it occurs, and if it’s supervised or unsupervised.

“They might also have questions we can’t answer, which we can forward to the local authority so they can provide more information.”

Placement Plan and Care Plan

A Placement Plan includes very basic information, like which school the child goes to, if they have health issues, which doctor and dentist they attend, things like that. This is compiled by the local authority, which has overall responsibility for the foster child.

The local authority is also responsible for providing a Care Plan. Our regional referral teams will contribute to this too. It fleshes out the information from the Placement Plan and fills in the gaps, including information like the child’s:

  • Educational arrangements
  • Special educational needs
  • Culture and beliefs
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Heath, wellbeing and dental care
  • Contact agreement with their family

Sometimes, a Care Plan will be made after the placement starts, for example in the case of emergency fostering. Liaison between the SSW and the local authority is important, to get as much information as possible at this stage.

The foster carer profile

If the foster carer is happy to proceed, the SSW send their profile to the local authority – two profiles, in fact:

  1. For the foster child. This is a child-friendly profile of the foster carer and their family. It includes photos of the house and the bedroom, perhaps also ones of the local park and the activities the family likes doing.
  2. For the local authority. This details the carer’s Approval Status, training, skills and so on. It will also include details of relevant experience of additional needs, for example of children with autism or physical disability.

How this stage goes is led very much by the child’s needs, we go at their pace.

3. Pre-placement meeting

The SSWs and the foster carer will meet and discuss the placement more formally. It’s an opportunity for the foster carer to ask more questions about the child – their routine, likes and dislikes, and special considerations like risks, bedwetting, tantrums and so on. If the carers want to proceed, the SSW will let the local authority know and a pre-placement meeting will be set up.

Natalie said: “How this stage goes is led very much by the child’s needs, we go at their pace. So, their first meeting could be at the park, or at their present foster home or residential home, or another suitable place.

“It can be a cuppa or a walk in the park. It will probably take more than one meeting. We work with what the child needs. They will start to get a sense of each other. They might meet other children in the household too.

“We take the time to air the potential issues – if there are going to be any issues, it’s better to get them sorted out now. It’s got to feel right.”

And when it’s right, it’s amazing. The match between our foster carers and the foster children they look after is life-changing. For everyone involved. Like Harry, a foster carer in Wolverhampton, says:

There is no other job like fostering. You can physically see the difference you are making in these children, from the day they come to you to the day they leave, you know you have made some sort of difference.

Browse through our case studies for more insights into fostering from our carers themselves.

Could you be a foster carer?

Every day, we help people be the best they can be in their role – the best they can be for the foster child in their care.

“We give our foster carers confidence and support and experience,” said Natalie. “We’re mindful of their preferences and develop them with training and support.”

Fostering Solutions in Liverpool, where Natalie is based, is in particular need of foster carers for teenagers and sibling groups, but many of our independent fostering agencies around the country are looking for more people to sign up – nationally, there are 8,000 foster children who are in need of a foster home where they can thrive.

If you feel inspired, find out more using our Can I Foster? tool or get in touch.  As our foster carers say, it’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do.

Find out if you could be a foster carer
Find out if you could be a foster carer
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