If you’re thinking of fostering in Scotland, Pam Coombs-Goodfellow will be one of the first people you talk to. Pam is a Carer Recruitment Officer (CRO) supporting potential foster carers from the Highlands to the Lowlands.
Pam has worked in fostering for 4 years and is an adoptive mum of 2 children (11 and 15), so she really gets it. The team she works with at NFA Scotland are all experienced fostering professionals; some have fostered or adopted too. They pride themselves at their ability to ‘think outside the box’.
“We are a wonderful team and we help create little miracles,” Pam said. “We’ve done it, we understand. We know how it feels becoming one with the assessment process, being open with your assessor and being open minded.
“We get the matching process right. We’re honest. Fostering is a challenge and we’re straight about that. It’s our job to love foster children and change their lives for the better. But it’s not just the foster children whose lives change for the better. There’s a change for foster parents. Fostering develops them as well.”
A few years ago, NFA Scotland was a small fostering agency but it has grown to meet the needs of its local communities. “We have some wonderful foster carers that have been with us for a long time. New ones too – this is a very exciting time for everyone,” said Pam.
“New foster carers will Buddy-up at first with a more experienced foster carer who lives close by. Our peer groups are very active! You don’t have to join in but many of our foster carers love to meet up for weekly coffee mornings to catch up.
“We also have a very active Carer Forum. Nine experienced foster carers from across Scotland meet with the agency’s management team every 3 months. They take questions to ask the management team and take the answers, plus other information, back to their local areas.
It’s not just the foster children whose lives change for the better. There’s a change for foster parents. Fostering develops them as well.
NFA Scotland also organises social events – all National Fostering Group’s agencies do this, though in Scotland, the size of our area and the mix of rural and city locations demands something extra.
“We don’t just hold events centrally in Grangemouth,” said Pam. “We spread them out across all regions where we support foster carers. We hold events in the north, south, east and west of our patch – Easter celebrations, Christmas and Halloween.
“We also run art classes, have picnics in the park, den building, hold mindfulness and wellbeing sessions. When we’re organising ‘me time’, we support the local college and book onto pampering, back massage, getting our nails done.
“I think our most popular day out is at Blair Drummond Safari Park [near Stirling]. Our foster carers bring their birth children and foster children to this one, even though it’s a drive. It’s such a fantastic day.”
There’s a 9,000 shortfall of foster carers in the UK, with more needed in every region, including Scotland.
In Pam’s area, there are many types of fostering placement available, including short term and respite. This area has a shortage of foster carers for 3 particular types of fostering – siblings, teens, and children with disabilities.
NFA Scotland also has a shortage of young people as foster carers. “We rely on the older generation,” Pam said. “But younger people have a lot to give and the power to change a child’s life.”
Sometimes, it’s confidence that holds people back from applying to become a foster carer. Pam believes that people don’t understand what they’re capable of.
“You don’t have to be a birth parent to make a loving home for a foster child, though you do need some transferable skills,” she said. “For instance, you need to be able to build relationships with people from all walks of life. You must be able to be an advocate for your foster child and stand up for their rights.
“I use ‘Bob’ as an example – he’s completely fictional but the scenario isn’t. At Bob’s regular care review meeting, the local authority social worker and other fostering professionals think that Bob should learn to swim because it’s an important life skill.
“But you know that Bob’s life experiences mean he can’t even get into the shower at the moment. It’s your job to give him a voice in these meetings.”
You don’t have to be a birth parent to make a loving home for a foster child, though you do need some transferable skills.
“We help people see the potential in themselves by mentoring, training them in therapeutic fostering, and through supporting,” Pam said. “You don’t need to be a birth parent to be an investigator and problem solver.”
Therapeutic fostering teaches foster carers to respond in the best possible way to individual children to enable them to feel safe and to grow. It’s not the same as parenting your own child and is designed to support children who have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse.
“It might seem normal to shout upstairs that tea’s on the table – but for a foster child, where they’ve experienced raised voices of a different kind, it’s better to go upstairs and tap on their bedroom door.”
NFA Scotland has a commitment to The Promise, a national pledge that “Scotland’s children and young people will grow up loved, safe and respected”.
What this means at NFA Scotland are working parties whose mission it is to improve foster children’s experience of care.
“There’s a meeting today of young people, supervising social workers, agency management and foster carers,” Pam said. “They’re actively working on foster carer record keeping. As a foster carer, it’s a responsibility to keep a daily record of what happened, like a diary. They’ll have the right to read their notes when they’re older.
“Some foster carers might write: ‘Bob hasn’t had a good day. He didn’t eat his lunch and did not want to go to football’. But some foster carers are showing more empathy in their writing: ‘I’m not sure what upset you today but it had an effect on you’. One foster carer writes beautifully to the baby she’s caring for, it’s like a letter to them and it’s so heartfelt that it brings a tear to my eye.
“This project is all about getting our terminology right. So, ‘Weekly contact’ becomes ‘family time’ and so on. Words matter, small things matter. These children are not in an institution, it’s not their fault they’re in care.
“It’s our job to love them and set them up for success. But it’s much more than a job, really. It’s the team’s passion to make sure that all our children and foster carers are looked after to the best of our ability.”
These children are not in an institution, it’s not their fault they’re in care. It’s our job to love them and set them up for success. But it’s much more than a job, really.
NFA Scotland covers Scotland from The Lowlands, across the central belt and up to Inverness. Pam’s time is split between the agency’s Grangemouth office, her home office, and the road.
“Our team is very collaborative. I like to support our social workers,” she said. “They all live in the same communities as their foster carers. Sometimes I do evenings and weekends to support the social workers and fostering applicants. It’s teamwork.
“We go from Edinburgh to Ayrshire and Helensburgh, and across the central belt to Glasgow and The Lowlands. East Lothian is the furthest down we go. Then we go up to Fife, Perth, Dundee, Elgin and Inverness.”
As well as teams in all these areas, NFA Scotland has a manager and an office just outside Aberdeen. NFA Scotland’s supporting social workers live within the fostering communities they support. In practice, this means they are only an hour away – maximum – from their foster carers.
While this sounds like quite a distance, NFA Scotland covers rural and sometimes very remote areas. “In the Highlands there are different rules for ‘it’s not far’,” said Pam. “Some carers we will go this little bit further for. But we have to remember that foster carers need support in place within a reasonable distance, it’s only fair.”
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.
If you need more information, the best thing to do is get in touch and speak to a CRO like Pam at NFA Scotland about your next steps.
We have other locally-based fostering agencies who cover Scotland and other regions in the UK. If you want to find your 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.