Becoming a foster carer is a big decision and we know that simply getting in touch to enquire about the process can be a big step. It may have taken a number of years and a lot of careful consideration and research. Here, we look at each stage of the assessment; from enquiry to approval, step-by-step.
Getting in touch
Before the main assessment begins, you may have attended an Information Session, or you may have called or e-mailed the Brighton & Hove Fostering Team directly. Information Sessions are a fantastic way to meet current Foster Carers and to find out what fostering is really like from people who have experienced the rewards and the challenges. Foster Carer Graham says “if you are at all interested, find out more, go to one of the information evenings. Speak to people to find out how fostering could fit in with your life.”
Initial home visit
If, after making contact you are happy to proceed, an Assessing Social Worker will arrange to visit you in your home. Sarah, 31, and Gemma, 33, foster mixed race siblings and recall “we were allocated an Assessing Social Worker who was brilliant and so supportive. She came to our house for an Initial Home Visit which was very informal. We chatted, had a cup of tea, and showed her where the children’s bedroom would be.” An Initial Home Visit is an opportunity for prospective Foster Carers to discuss their circumstances and motivations in a familiar, comfortable environment. The Assessing Social Worker will answer questions, conduct a health and safety assessment of the home, and ask to meet other members of the household such as partners, birth children and pets.
Stage 1 marks the beginning of the main Foster Carer Assessment. It is principally about gathering basic, factual information and includes mandatory checks and references such as Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, medical checks, Local Authority checks, Child Protection Register checks and online checks. Employment and personal references will be sought, as well as ex-partner references if you have previously been in a significant relationship, especially one in which children were involved.
Skills to foster
Following, or sometimes during Stage 1, you will be invited to attend a mandatory three day training course designed to help you explore and understand some of the issues involved in fostering. It will begin to prepare you for life as a Foster Carer and introduce subjects such as safe care and identity. Foster Carer Gemma reflects “I’ve been working in childcare for 14 years, and it’s the best training I’ve ever had. It gave a real sense of what fostering is truly like.”
Stage 2 involves several home visits and focusses on getting to know you better, assessing and developing your knowledge and experience, and exploring your motivation to foster. An Assessing Social Worker will gather information about your lifestyle and look at how fostering will fit into your life.
Foster Carer Stella describes her experience: “We would have a session, we would discuss a topic, and then between the sessions we would discuss the topic with our children and between ourselves. It worked really well! It gave us time to talk to our children about the type of children that would be coming into our care, why they would be coming to us, and what to expect.”
Foster Carer Joanna says “the social worker who assessed us was always on time and always friendly and ready to help. She supported us in a professional, kind and efficient way.”
Once Stage 2 is complete, the Assessing Social Worker will compile a report, to be presented to an Independent Fostering Panel. The panel is made up of health and education professionals, Foster Carers, and independent members representing a cross-section of society.
Sarah and Gemma admit that Panel can be daunting when you first walk in, but quickly add that “everyone was lovely, and they made it so easy.”
Foster Carer Lydia says “we were really confident that the assessment had prepared us for Panel and that it was a formality. Different people from different walks of life, looked at our assessment, as a final check and balance.”
Following the Panel meeting, the Panel will make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker, who will give the final say on your approval as a Foster Carer. The Foster Carer assessment process can take, on average, six months but Lydia qualifies this in context; “You’re dealing with children who have everything stacked against them and you need to be the consistent resilient person. That’s why the process to become a foster carer is so long.”
Brighton & Hove City Council are not expecting the assessment to imply perfection because “nobody is perfect.” Foster Carer David speculates “how can you be expected to relate to children who are having a difficult time if you haven’t experienced some challenges yourself?”
Foster Carer Liz says “go for it, don’t hold back. It’s like a lot of things in life - you get out of it what you put in. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
Due to Coronavirus, our team our working remotly, but we are continuing to welcome fostering enquiries and applications because there remains a priority need for children to have safe and loving foster families. Where possible we are conducting initial enquiries and home visits via WhatsApp and Skype, and we are working closly with new applicants to progress their applications.