Fostering isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. Saying that, sometimes the data tells a story that’s inspiring in its own right.
NFA Midlands, for example, is our largest fostering team outside London. Headquartered in Solihull, it covers 2 regions – East Midlands and West Midlands incorporating towns and cities across 11 counties. It’s a 40-strong team that supports 221 families fostering in Birmingham and the surrounding areas, plus 100s of foster children. The agency team comprises an admin team, Carer Recruitment Officers, Supervising Social Workers, Carer Support Workers and a host of other fostering professionals.
Remarkably, despite the size of the team and its catchment area, NFA Midlands creates a friendly, family feel. They achieve this through their strong ethos of personalised support, as well as incredible collaboration across the board, including through the creation of a volunteer recruitment team.
Kelly Bowron, a Carer Recruitment Officer (CRO), said: “We spend a lot of time building relationships with our foster carers. They need to know who we are and how we can support them.”
There are many different ways the wider team builds these strong relationships. Kelly and the CRO team – Claire, Lucy and Debbie – are there from the beginning, when a potential foster carer first gets in touch.
“They might make an enquiry online about becoming a foster carer,” Kelly explained. “Or they might call or be referred to us by another foster carer.
“A CRO will follow this up with a phone call to see where they are in their thinking and how we can help at that point. If they want to continue with an application to become a foster carer, we’ll follow this up with a home visit.”
“We spend a lot of time building relationships with our foster carers. They need to know who we are and how we can support them.”
In her role, Kelly has plenty of contact with foster carers, so understands the role inside out. Even at this early stage, the information she can share with a potential foster carer is vital.
“This initial home visit is the chance for us to have a more in depth talk. The CRO will explain what the assessment looks like and what being a foster carer is like. We’ll answer questions the potential carer might have and discuss what they might want to get out of fostering.
“After this, we’ll write a report into the initial visit with a recommendation to progress or not. This is reviewed by our manager and we agree on a decision. Sometimes people aren’t suitable, often because it’s just not the right time for them now – they might have a lot on their plate, or there’s been a bereavement or other event.”
If the application can progress, Kelly and the other CROs will pass the potential foster carer into the care of an NFA Midlands social worker, who will support them through their fostering application.
Once the applicant has been approved to foster a child, the CROs step up again. They are just one part of the agency’s support network that helps a foster carer be the best in their role, along with the family Support Workers, Social Workers and other fostering professionals.
“As a CRO, I don’t work directly with the children, the support workers do though. I build relationships with the carers in lots of different ways,” said Kelly. “I visit foster carers with awards, and organise pamper days, carer breakfasts, events that say thank you and bring foster carers together.
“I build relationships with the carers in lots of different ways. I visit foster carers with awards, and organise pamper days, carer breakfasts, events that say thank you and bring foster carers together.”
“We attend events – the Family Support Workers and Supervising Social Workers organise a lot of events in different locations across our area, like carer support groups and the Easter celebrations. These are great for saying ‘hi’, updating people, seeing how they’re doing.
“We use every opportunity. Some parents don’t attend all events everywhere, but the CROs go – so we see everyone. The wider team has many touchpoints but it’s important that foster carers really feel the level of support that we’re providing.
“The personal touch is important to us. We do mailouts and we always include photos of ourselves so we’re recognisable and familiar.”
During the assessment, the potential foster carer will discuss with the social worker the types of fostering they’d like to do.
“We have a high demand for sibling fostering in our area.” said Kelly. “We’re fortunate to have good provision for this. In some areas of the country, there’s a shortage of foster carers who can help us keep siblings together. Foster children usually each need a bedroom of their own, so it’s a matter of how many spare rooms you have.
“If anything, we need more foster carers registered for Parent & Child fostering.”
Babies and teen fostering
Parent & Child fostering is where a new parent and their baby will live together in your home, so your spare room needs to be slightly larger than for a foster child. Its purpose is to improve their skills and confidence. It’s recognised as a way to help keep children with their parents and prevent them entering the care system.
Fostering babies on their own is a rarity, which might disappoint people who have their hearts set on this. “We want foster carers to be open minded about the ages they will foster,” Kelly said. “Babies are lovely but other types of fostering are desperately needed – and also very satisfying.
“It’s a shame, but there’s a misconception that teenagers are trouble. It’s such a taboo for everyone. It’s something the social workers will unpick during the assessment process to help people understand the opportunities.”
The sense of teamwork and collaboration between the agency and foster carers at NFA Midlands is writ large in the setting-up of a volunteer recruitment team.
“About a year ago,” Kelly said, “a group of 6 foster carers approached us and said they’d like to help spread the word about fostering with NFA Midlands. They volunteered because their hearts are in it and they believe in what they do, what they’re part of.
“So, they help with recruitment. They take leaflets to after sports events and school events – anywhere really. They speak to people about foster care. It’s very powerful for a potential foster carer to meet someone who actually does it. They can see how passionate they are about what they do. It’s inspiring. People really respond to them.
“This is how I feel about what I do, too. My heart’s in it. I’m emotionally invested.”
“It’s very powerful for a potential foster carer to meet someone who actually does it. They can see how passionate they are about what they do.”
Foster carers come from many walks of life. You need bags of patience and compassion. Genuine love for working with children. The ability to practice therapeutic fostering (training given) and work with other professionals. The gift of being able to create a safe space.
Experience is good too. If you’ve worked in sectors like education, the emergency services, care or healthcare, you’ll be especially suited to a foster carer role.
Interestingly, at NFA Midlands, Kelly said, she’s noticed an uptick in men becoming foster carers, including as the primary foster carer in a couple where their female partner continues to work full time outside the home – perhaps indicating a national trend.
If you need more information, the best thing to do is get in touch and speak to a CRO like Kelly about your next steps. It’s worth noting that we have other fostering agencies who cover areas within the Midlands too – if you want to find your most local independent fostering agency, you can search using your postcode.
You might like to try our Can I Foster? tool, which answers common questions about suitability to foster, based on a personalised Q and A style format. If you’re ready to chat with a real person, contact your local team.