Part of being a parent is making sure your child has skills and knowledge they need to get by in the world. The need is the same for foster children, except there’s a full team available to help them get to grips with tasks like ironing, setting up a bank account, and more.
Sarah Quarterman had worked with teenagers in residential care and as a foster carer for 14 years. When she joined Alliance Fostering in Northampton as a support worker in 2021, she decided this independent living guidance needed updating. Her plan was that it should better reflect how ways of doing things have changed, as well as to fill in some gaps.
It’s become an evolving collaborative project between the Alliance team, foster carers, and the teenagers they look after.
Preparations for independent living begin when the child is around 16 years old. We work with the local authority, foster parents and foster child to draw up a Pathway Plan and the council allocates the young person with a personal adviser, who will work with them until they’re 25.
By age 16, many foster children will already be well on the way to learning ‘how to adult’ and a structured approach – like a booklet or workbook – is favoured by local authorities. There’s only a semi-official ‘curriculum’, which can be started whenever the foster parent feels the child is mature enough, usually between 15 to 17 years of age.
“We call it Independent Living Skills,” Sarah explained. “In reality, it will be some time before our foster children live on their own but this is an important transition period. It means learning how to do tasks many of us take for granted, as well as how to tackle emergencies and where to find help or information about something.
“The old guidance talked about how to wire a plug and how to put up a curtain pole. It felt random and irrelevant to what young people need to know in 2022 and beyond. Unsurprisingly, not many of our foster teens engaged with it!”
The old guidance… felt random and irrelevant to what young people need to know in 2022 and beyond. Unsurprisingly, not many of our foster teens engaged with it!
Sarah said: “We asked young people what was missing from the guidance. Our supervising social workers and foster carers got involved too. We got a list together and redesigned the booklet.”
The list includes how to:
“Online banking and other services weren’t available like they are now when our original guidance was written,” Sarah said. “Everything has changed so much!”
“Some of our foster children are testing the new booklet out now. They get a £5 budget for the ‘cooking a healthy meal’ task and there’s a £50 incentive to complete all the tasks.
“The idea is that they work through the booklet, but this isn’t a solo journey – their foster parents will help them and demonstrate some skills, like ironing. We help too, usually on the tasks where foster parents are less confident or which are more time consuming, like setting up a new bank account.
“When they’ve completed a task, the foster child will send us a photo or other evidence to show they’ve completed that task. We’ve had a small number of completions so far and other young people are getting on with it.
Feedback we get from the teenagers – and foster carers too – will help us tweak the booklet to make it more relevant to everyone’s needs. Making it relevant will boost engagement.
Sarah was a foster carer herself for 14 years and worked in a children’s residential home. She’s been at Alliance Fostering in a support worker role since July 2021, after getting a degree in Social Work.
“Social workers on the local council side like the idea of the updated brochure too,” she added. “We all know how important these life skills are. We’ve already worked out how we might adapt some of the tasks for foster children with special educational needs, for example, or who have a disability.
“Feedback we get from the teenagers – and foster carers too – will help us tweak the booklet to make it more relevant to everyone’s needs. Making it relevant will boost engagement.”
“Everyone’s different. For example, some autistic kids couldn’t cope with some of the tasks if it meant going somewhere on their own. We can adapt the activity to make sure they stay comfortable and safe, and have a satisfactory learning experience at the same time.
“If anything, our first draft was too big. We don’t need to cover everything, just the very practical things needed to get by independently. It’s been difficult to know where to stop. We wondered about including CVs and internet safety, but they’re really outside the scope of what the young people need at this stage.”
More than 8,000 new foster carers are needed UK-wide to provide homes for children in need of a foster family. If you’re thinking of becoming a foster carer, now’s the time.