Sue Brown is a supervising social worker with Fostering Solutions, one of National Fostering Group’s agencies.
Previously, Sue worked for many years in child protection and, so, understands the journey many children take into care and what is asked of the foster parents who care for them.
Foster carer responsibilities
“Alongside the day-to-day tasks of caring for the children, foster carers have many other things to do, such as attending meetings with other professionals – including social workers – like education planning meetings and three-monthly child reviews.
“Depending on the circumstances, they may need to take the foster child to contact with their birth family. This can be quite frequent and may prompt certain behaviours.
“Foster carers keep a daily log of everything that is happening in the child’s life, which foster children can read when they reach 18.”
How does it feel to be a foster carer?
“For just about everyone, taking your first steps as a foster carer is the scariest part. Although we do our best to prepare our foster carers, it’s only when your first foster child arrives that you understand what it really means to foster.
“Although fostering is hard work it is also an amazing thing to do, with the potential to change a child’s life. Many foster carers tell me that deciding to foster is the best decision they ever made.”
Here are three main ways Sue says becoming a foster carer is challenging and transformative.
1. Being reflective and empathetic
“Applying to become a foster carer is a lengthy and in-depth process that can take several months. You learn a lot about yourself during it as it’s a very reflective process.
“As a foster carer you’ll need to be able to reflect and empathise and you’ll also need to be aware of anything that might act as a trigger for you, particularly if you’ve had adverse experiences yourself.
“In contrast, if your upbringing was quite traditional, it’s important to understand that it’s not like this for every child. Looked after children can be challenging and sometimes their behaviour can be hard to understand if you haven’t had similar experiences.
“The application process takes you through all your own experiences growing up to give you the most robust possible preparation for becoming a foster carer. Fostering is not like babysitting and we want our foster carers to be well-prepared.”
2. Embracing training
“Alongside the application process, every foster carer does the three-day Skills to Foster training, which provides a solid grounding and essential skills.
“You’ll continue training throughout your time as a foster carer, this is simply a starting point. We expect foster carers to complete 12-13 different mandatory training courses each year, as well as choosing other training that might help them understand their foster child’s particular circumstances.”
3. Understanding how/why foster children differ from birth children
“With your own birth children, you’ve been around for the whole of their lives and know their story. If they behave in a particular way, you can discipline them because you know what’s happened to them in the past.
“It’s not the same with foster children. Sometimes extreme behaviours can be due to past trauma that you won’t be fully aware of.
“For example, ‘time out’ may be unhelpful as it can bring back feelings of shame. ‘Time in’ can be more helpful: “come and sit next to me, I’ll sit with you while you calm down”.
“It’s a delicate balance. You want them to know when certain things are, but you also need to make allowances for them. That’s why fostering is one of the hardest jobs ever and also one of the most rewarding.”
“Some foster carers are surprised they need to ask permission for certain things, like taking the child away for the weekend.
“Everything must be risk-assessed and, although we’re trying to move away from that, so foster children can lead as normal a life as possible, there’s still a lot of paperwork and form-filling to do.”
Is the reality of fostering different from the expectation?
“People sometimes think children will be grateful for being given a comfortable home and love.
“But it’s important to remember that they’ve been taken away from everything that’s familiar. This is why we try and prepare foster carers for the reality of fostering.
“It can be shocking and upsetting to hear what children have been through. But, on the other hand, it’s so rewarding when you see a child happy and watch them develop and grow in confidence.
“Sometimes it’s the small things that are the biggest reward – such as noticing that they have made a friend at school or haven’t got into trouble that day.
“It’s really challenging to foster but the rewards are huge and you’re never on your own. There’s a whole team – including me – behind you.
“Our youngest son is adopted and I am forever indebted to his foster carers and the wonderful job they did.”
It’s the most challenging and emotionally rewarding job you can do, and we offer a generous financial package, free training and all the support you need.
If Sue has inspired you to think about becoming a foster carer, contact your local office by using the form on our contact page.