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Information for Foster Carers

Becoming a foster carer

Anyone can apply to be a foster carer, so long as they have the qualities needed to look after children who cannot live with their parents. There is no maximum age limit for being a foster carer.

You can be a foster carer…

  • whether you have your own children or not
  • if you are single, married or living with a partner
  • if you are in or out of work
  • whether you live in your own home or rent
  • whatever your race, religion or sexuality

Applying to become a foster carer

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, the first thing you should do is contact your local fostering service (either the social services department of your local council or an independent fostering agency) and arrange a meeting. They will explain what fostering involves and will help you decide whether you are right for fostering.

Do you live in the Midlands, Mid or South Wales? If so you will find some really  useful information when considering becoming a Foster Carer by CLICKING HERE.

The first link below will let you enter details of where you live and then take you to your local authority website where you can find out more about fostering.

The second link will help you find an independent fostering agency in your area.

Once it has been decided you are suitable to become a foster carer, The Criminal Records Bureau will check that you have not committed an offence which would exclude you from fostering. You will also have a health check, to rule out any health problems.

A social worker will then help you fill in an application form and you will be asked to attend a group preparation session with other people who are applying.

Finally your application will be sent to an independent fostering panel, which will recommend whether or not you can become a foster carer. This can take up to six months.

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How Do You Build An Attachment With A Baby?

For some parents, building attachment with their babies comes naturally. They instinctively know what to do and how to bond with their babies from birth. For other parents, the process of building an attachment with a baby is a learning experience. Not surprisingly, since for many individuals these days, their baby is very likely one of the first or few babies they have ever had to deal with in their lives – unlike the past when having many children was common, many people had the benefit of experience from helping to look after younger siblings.

If you are a new parent feeling at a loss regarding how to build attachment with your baby, we will examine some effective ways to help you get started. Many of these can begin from as early as birth and most involve physical touch and spending time in close proximity to your baby. If you want to build a bond with another individual, you need to get to know them. One way of getting to know them is to spend lots of time with them. Likewise, if you want to form an attachment with you baby, it follows naturally that spending as much time as possible with your baby will help. Any activity you can do with your baby that fosters closeness will assist in building attachment.

1. Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, offers mothers plenty of opportunity to be close to their babies and to build up a relationship of trust. More than simply providing nourishment to the baby, breastfeeding helps to build a bond due to the frequent close proximity and skin contact between mother and baby. Nursing babies derive more than physical nourishment from breastfeeding as nursing also offers babies emotional comfort.

Through breastfeeding, a mother can learn to read her baby’s cues and non-verbal attempts to communicate his (or her) need for food or comfort. Additionally, the act of breastfeeding triggers the release of hormones which affect mothers on an emotional level. The strong emotional connection between mother and baby involved in breastfeeding can be observed when a mother nurses her baby versus when a mother attempts to express milk with a breast pump. The letdown reflex (the process by which matured milk moves from the back of the breast to the front) often comes quite easily when the baby is suckling but can be quite difficult to achieve when expressing milk with a breast pump.

2. Feeding

For Dads and mothers who have opted to bottle feed their babies, it is still possible to build attachment with a baby, although the benefits of the hormonal reaction and the natural bond that forms between a nursing couple (the mother and baby in a breastfeeding relationship) are missed. Here are some practices that can help:

Cuddle baby during feeds. There is a tendency with bottle feeding to prop baby up with a cushion or pillow and offer the bottle from a distance. To build an attachment, touch and closeness is required. To help foster that requirement, hold the baby as if you were intending to breastfeed.

Increase skin to skin contact. Bottle feeding without a shirt on can help to mimic the skin to skin contact between parent and baby similar to the nursing situation.

3. Co-sleeping

It is a natural survival instinct for a baby to seek the close proximity of a parent. In the wild, infants who are separated from parents become prey to predators and the risk of death is very high. Babies aren’t born with the awareness that the environment around them is safe and naturally seek the closeness of their parents, even at night. Co-sleeping offers babies the comfort and feeling of security of being near a parent.

Sleep studies have also shown that co-sleeping mothers respond to the movements of their babies even while sleep. It is evident that co-sleeping not only allows mothers to provide comfort and security to their babies, but at the same time mothers are also unconsciously developing an attachment to their babies.

4. Baby wearing

Babies also need to be near parents during the day as a baby makes no distinction between day or night. One way to keep your baby close to you during the day without physically immobilising yourself is to “wear” your baby in a baby sling or carrier. Baby carriers and slings allow parents to cuddle their babies while leaving their hands free.

Having your baby’s face close to yours fosters communication (from parent to baby and baby to parent). Parents can share observations and keep baby updated about what is happening. This is more likely to occur when your baby is being carried than when your baby is lying in a pram. Imagine trying to talk to your baby through the noise and commotion in a shopping mall – it would definitely be easier for your baby to listen to you when being carried rather than when lying in a pram.

5. Talking and Singing

Babies respond most eagerly to the sound of a real person’s voice, and even more so if that voice belongs to a parent. Babies can recognise their parents’ voices having heard them while in the womb. Sometimes the sound of a mother or father’s voice can be enough to calm a stirring baby. Studies have also shown that babies can be soothed more easily with songs that they heard their mothers sing to them during the pregnancy.

Some first time parents find it awkward to ramble to a baby who doesn’t appear to understand them, but don’t underestimate your baby who is absorbing a lot more that you think. Babies who have been spoken to a lot during the early months often learn to speak earlier than their peers. Learning to talk and sing to you baby takes time. While uncomfortable at first, remember that practice makes perfect.

6. Playing

Babies love to play. Play is one of the ways that help them learn about the world around them. Play is a special interaction between parent and baby that involves touch, physical closeness, and laughter – all ingredients for fostering a strong attachment.

Games that parents can play with babies might be bouncing games on the lap, rolling on the bed, tickling, learning about hands and feet and features of the face. As your baby grows older, you can play games such as rolling a ball, shaking noise-makers, or exploring cloth books.

7. Primary Care Giver

Don’t underestimate the bond that is being built as you bathe your baby, change his (or her) diapers, and respond to his (or her) other physical or emotional needs. By being the primary care giver to your baby, you will inevitably build an attachment with your baby as you learn to read his (or her) cues, body language, and attempts to communicate with you. This is evident with babies who express closeness to nannies or carers who look after them while their parents go to work.

Summary

Building an attachment with your baby is like making friends with a person who only speaks a foreign language. At first you may find it difficult to understand what your baby needs but as you spend more time with him (or her) you will begin not only to understand him (or her) but to build an attachment. While you do not necessarily have to follow each and every suggestion above, all of them will assist you in forming an attachment with your baby. The most fundamental part of bonding, however, is time spent together. It takes time to build an attachment with another person, likewise, with a baby, the more time you can spend, the better.

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Keeping children in touch

Children in foster care generally stay for a limited period until they either go home to their parents or move on to independent living or adoption or permanency. While they are with foster carers, they usually remain in contact with their parents and visits home or to a contact centre are arranged on a regular basis. Children need to maintain contact so that they have a clear idea of who they are and where they have come from and this helps them develop their own sense of identity, so crucial during the teenage years and beyond.

Maintaining contact can be a real challenge for foster carers. It is they who see the child return from a difficult contact with mum and they who often have to pick up the pieces. Children look forward to contact and can end up disappointed by the reality of their visit home – maybe mum was too busy to spend quality time with them or maybe no-one showed up and they were once again let down. Unable to express their anger with their parent, it all comes out in the foster home. Carers can be confronted by an angry child, unable to talk about or deal with their feelings for fear of being disloyal to their parent. A good foster carer understands the torn loyalties a child feels, and they can withstand the anger and support the child through their difficulties.

Young children need more structured and regular contact. Courts often ask for young babies, who have been removed, to have daily contact with parents. Foster carers who are approved for the care of very young children need to be prepared for frequent levels of contact – sometimes 5 days a week lasting about 2 or 3 hours each day. On some occasions, this happens in the foster home, but mostly it takes place in a contact centre designed specifically for the purpose, where contact is supervised and the process carefully recorded as evidence for court.

Maintaining family contact can also involve grandparents and siblings – we have been involved with large family groups getting together at contact centres, with supervisors (sometimes more than just one) monitoring and recording the proceedings. At Christmas time and Birthdays whole families including extended family often have a big family contact when they exchange presents and celebrate. It is the foster carer’s job to encourage and support these contacts and make sure they are positive experiences for the fostered child in placement.

Facilitating contact is a crucial task for a foster carer because a child in foster care never forgets their own parents and will generally want to see them regardless of the past problems that they have been exposed to while at home.

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Helping Children Move On

Most fostering requires carers to look after children and young people temporarily until they move on. There are various avenues that can be taken after a child comes into the care system : they can return to their parents or extended families, they can reach the age when they become independent and move to their own place, or they can move on to adoption or permanency with other carers.

Whichever route is taken, the child needs support in making the transition to their new home and the foster carer plays a significant part in making the move a success. All moves need to be managed carefully and to take into account the child’s age and ability to cope with change themselves.

When the plan is adoption, it usually concerns younger children. The foster carer’s job in this case is to help the child feel safe and secure while introductions to their new family take place. It is likely that these children, young as they are, will have experienced more than one foster home and so in order to convey the permanent nature of their adoptive placement, terms are used such as “your forever family” or “your new mummy and daddy” when referring to the new adoptive parents. Often, several meetings will take place between the child and their adoptive parents, including overnight stays and weekends in their new home before they actually move in properly. During this transition period, there is close liaison between the foster carers and the adopters to prepare the adopters. This period is also used to assess the child’s readiness for the move and the pace of the move can be altered to suit the child, depending on how well the introductions go. The task of the foster carer is to help a child transfer their attachment from themselves to the adopters and this of course brings sadness and feelings of loss for the foster carer. They need support at this time from their own network and importantly from their fostering social worker and agency so that their own feelings do not effect the child or the adopters. This can be a difficult time for foster caring families but generally they see the benefits of the move for the child and in the long term they often stay in touch with both the child and the adopters over many years. When successful, it can be a hugely rewarding experience for foster carers.

Children may also move on to independence when they reach 16 to 18 years and they need practical and emotional support from their carers in making this important transition to adulthood. As we know from our own children, “independence” is not achieved over night and it can take years of backup support from their family / home base before a young adult can really cope alone. Foster carers help with buying the correct equipment for a new flat, they also help with budgeting, cooking, washing, self care, dealing with employers, colleges, job centres etc and basic DIY skills. There is an awful lot to learn and hopefully this will have been on going from a much younger age. Young people will feel ambivalent about moving to independence – excited and keen, but also anxious and reluctant in some respects. Managing this ambivalence is the challenge for foster carers and they need the support, guidance and understanding of their own social workers.

Those children returning to their birth families will be looking forward to the move but also nervous about whether things will really work out and they need lots of reassurance form their foster carer that this is the right decision for them and their family. Foster carers will need to build good working relationships with the family members themselves, be they parents, grand parents, aunts and uncles, sometimes older siblings. Often in reality foster carers may have reservations about the plan for a child to return home, and they can voice these views at the planning stage, along with the other professionals. If, however, a decision has been made to return a child home, it is the carer’s job to work alongside the social workers and family to make a success of the move. This can be tough, feelings can be strong and it is at times like this that a foster carer really needs the support of their own social workers to help them mange the process in a professional manner.

South African born Keith has lived in the south of England for most of his life. After graduating from University with a degree in Business Information Systems Management he decided to start Strawberrysoup a website design company based in West Sussex and Dorset. Keith successfully gained entry into the Southampton University Air Squadron and spent over 12 months training to fly. Since then he has continued to follow his interest in flying and has now began his own training in the form of a Private Pilot’s Licence. Keith also spent 13 months working within the Image and Printing Group at Hewlett Packard in Bracknell. Throughout his time there, he was responsible for many activities including events organisation and website design and maintenance.

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Foster Care as a Career

Looking after a child is one of the most important and rewarding experiences in many people’s lives, and devoting some of your time to fostering a child can be hugely beneficial to all concerned. There are many reasons why people decide to foster children, allowing young people to enjoy a safe and secure environment to help them flourish, and a great deal of support is available to make the process as smooth as possible.

Fostering can be a short- or long-term commitment, from short periods of weeks or months to longer periods while a child is unable to be raised by its birth family. Whether the fostering period results in the child being returned to its original home or heading for adoption, this time is every bit as important in their continuing development as any other period in their lives, and often results in long-term connections being made between carer and child. Fostering organisations are always seeking out the highest quality foster placements for children to give young people the best possible environment to enjoy their childhood.

There are some common and old-fashioned misconceptions about fostering that are still held by many people, including the notion that foster parents need to be married or own their own home in order to qualify as suitable. All that’s required of a suitable foster parent is dedication to providing as safe and comfortable an environment possible for children during what can often be a difficult time for them, and an ability to provide all the care and attention that a growing child needs.

Fortunately, foster parents are never alone, with help being just a phone call away, day or night, to help them deal with any situations that might arise. With many fostered children having had a difficult start in life, this can often result in attitudes and behaviour that foster parents can be taught to deal with effectively, and classes are available to ensure foster parents are able to cope with all eventualities.

Fostering is a big commitment not to be taken lightly, as caring for a child can have a significant impact on their development, as well as the wellbeing of the carer. Foster parents are required to undergo a screening process to ensure their suitability, but anyone who thinks they have what it takes to provide a secure and loving environment for a child, whether for a short period or longer, can contact fostering organisations to offer their valued support.

Adam Singleton writes for a digital marketing agency. This article has been commissioned by a client of said agency. This article is not designed to promote, but should be considered professional content.

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