Becoming a foster carer does not have to mean giving up employment and that certainly hasn’t been the case for Darren and Fiona, who both work full time and foster school age children.
Fiona works for Brighton & Hove City Council and is supported to work flexible hours. “I can log in on my lap top at 7 o’clock at night, or at the weekend. I’m not set to a rigid 9-5 schedule.”
Darren works privately for a firm that also offers him the flexibility to work evenings and weekends.
For them, working is an important part of family life. “If we had our own children, we would work, so it’s important to us to be able to work and foster because we’ve both built up good careers. For children, it’s normal for them to see parents or foster parents go out to work.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about fostering is that you cannot work and foster and they admit that “for a long time that’s what stopped us coming forward as foster carers.”
But Darren’s rebuke to this is to ask. “I was amazed when I started asking my employer what was available; there was a range of options there including being able to work flexibly. You might be surprised so don’t be afraid to ask.”
As with any working family, juggling commitments and responsibilities is a challenge but Darren and Fiona handle it with careful forward planning “I will do the drop off and go into the office bit later. My husband will do the pick up and go into the office early. We work things around the school run. If I’ve got a meeting where I need to be in early, then we’ll switch around.”
It’s true that foster carers are expected to be available to care for children, support contact between a child and their family and to attend meetings, training and support groups, but flexible working hours make this possible for Darren and Fiona. “There are a lot of meetings that we have to attend. There are meetings at schools, meetings with social workers and meetings with health visitors. There are a lot of people involved who need to meet with the child and it seems to happen mostly between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday. So you need a job that’s flexible enough to mean you can attend those meetings. You need to know that if you need to leave at lunchtime to go to a meeting for 2 hours, you can make that time up another time.”
The training courses offered by Brighton & Hove will all occur locally between 10 and 2 which gives foster carers the opportunity to attend school drop-offs and pick-ups.
Fiona affirms that her decision to become a foster carer has been fully supported by Brighton & Hove City Council as her employer. “When I started I didn’t know about the amount of support that was there. Employees who are approved foster carers are given up to 5 days additional paid leave for training purposes as well as additional, discretionary unpaid leave for things like medical appointments and school holidays. There is a lot of support there.”
Darren and Fiona have been fostering for almost a year and have never looked back. Darren cautions “be mindful that there are challenges but they’re not insurmountable ones. There will be situations and you might find it tough but there’s always somebody at the end of the phone and somebody that you can speak to.”
To those who are considering becoming a foster carer and want to maintain employment, his advice is to “go to the recruitment evening, talk to people, talk to other foster carers, talk to the staff. Go for it, don’t hold back and really it’s like a lot of things in life… you get out of it what you put in. It’s really incredibly rewarding, when you see a child come to you who might be timid, confused, afraid, actually growing in your care into a confident child."